July 20, 2013
By Jon Cooper
From the day he arrived in Atlanta, Jeremiah Attaochu has been on the move as a non-stop and unstoppable force at outside linebacker, pushing forward and pushing opposing offenses backward.
The Nigerian-born, Attaochu, whose family moved to Washington D.C. when he was young, was never more effective than in in 2012, when, as a junior, he finished with 10.0 sacks, tops on the team and tied for the seventh-best season in school history, third in the ACC and 26th in the nation. He finished the year with 19.0 sacks, eighth-most in school history, half a sack behind former ACC Player of the Year and All-America DE Derrick Morgan and only four sacks behind legendary linebacker Pat Swilling for fifth place.
But Attaochu knew there was more to be attained than just statistical gains so he chose to by-pass the NFL Draft to return for his senior year at Georgia Tech.
“I always felt good about my decision to come back. It was a win-win situation,” he said. “I always looked at it that way. The things I’ve learned, leadership things I’m learning as a senior, the position I’m in, it’s really priceless things that can take you further than leaving early. Regardless of how the season goes I feel like I’ve already won in coming back.”
While he’s sure he has put himself in the best position to succeed down the road, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof is sure that the best position for the 6-3, 242-pound Attaochu to succeed in the immediate future is at defensive end. Attaochu is on board.
“It was his (Roof’s) idea but I was completely fine with it, too,” said Attaochu. “He comes to me and asks me things that I feel comfortable doing, things that I can do to help the team. He comes to me. It’s an open relationship and he understands that I need to be put into positions to help the team. It works really well, just that willingness and that openness to learn and take in new coaching. It’s helped me.”
“I feel comfortable making the change,” he added. “I feel like having three years under my belt has allowed me to understand you have to be receptive to coaching for it to make you a better player. That’s the approach I took and it’s worked out well because everything that Coach Roof brought are the things I want to do. So being receptive to it has allowed me to transition better, has allowed me to be a better leader, a better motivator and basically help everybody else buy into what Coach Roof is trying to preach. It’s like we don’t have a new coach. We know this guy after one spring.”
The spring and summer were good for Attaochu, who began workouts at around 235 pounds but has put on seven pounds via strength and conditioning coach John Sisk’s off-season program. Attaochu is expecting to play at between 240 and 245 during the season.
“I’m miles ahead of where I was last year strength-wise,” he said. “We had a power-clean test. I’m the worst at power-clean but since I walked in here, I’ve gotten significantly better. I went from like a 260 to a 310-pound power-clean just in this four-month span.”
Improving his strength while keeping his linebacker speed is his goal as he tries to set a good example for his teammates during the season.
“I’m going to try to run linebacker time,” he said. “I always push myself. Just being motivated from within, not to slack off, especially my senior year where everybody’s looking up to me. I have to help the team out more than ever now. I’ve been running harder, lifting harder, pushing myself more than I’ve ever pushed myself and I’m seeing the results.”
He’s also seeing his name in the national media.
That buzz over Attaochu is getting louder every day. After earning Honorable Mention All-ACC each of the last two seasons, he was included on several prestigious 2013 preseason Award Watch Lists, including the Chuck Bednarik, awarded to the nation’s top defensive player (he and DB Jemea Thomas made the list), the Bronko Nagurski, awarded to the National Defensive Player of the Year by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the Football Writers Association of America), the Butkus Award, awarded to the nation’s top linebacker, and the Rotary Lombardi Award, given to college football’s top lineman – offensive or defensive – or linebacker.
“It’s really an honor to be on those lists seeing the other guys, the great players in this country,” he said. “I feel like I’m one of the best but seeing the other guys on the list, it’s just really good company to be in. I could never see myself in that situation being a three-star recruit coming out of high school.”
He’s fearlessly embracing his place as one of the best players in the nation as much as he has embracing his role as a team leader.
“I’m not in awe of anybody anymore,” he said, with a laugh. “I was, coming in as a freshman, but now I understand the game. It’s good to see guys who are considered top players in the country, like [South Carolina linebacker Jadaveon] Clowney, [UCLA linebacker] Anthony Barr, and [Oklahoma corner Aaron] Colvin, guys that do similar things that I do.”
While he appreciates the preseason recognition of being on these watch lists, experience has helped him recognize that it’s only preseason.
“People, my friends and family, were coming to me and saying, ‘Congratulations,’ and I would tell them, ‘Don’t congratulate me. I haven’t done anything yet,'” he said. “The thing about it is, being on those watch lists, you have to be on the list to even be considered. I kind of accepted that fact and accepted those prestigious awards. It’s an honor, it’s a blessing to be on those and I’m not going to take it for granted.”
Attaochu will be featured on Raycom’s series “Football Saturdays in the South,” which will air in Atlanta on WATL-TV on July 31 at 6 p.m. and will be repeated on August 3 at 1 p.m.
Get Sting Daily in your e-mail box — it’s free! Just register here to get the latest features on Georgia Tech Athletics.