May 8, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Now that Jerry’s World-wind is complete, Jeremiah Attaochu is back at home, “relaxing” in Washington, D.C., and . . . that’s a problem.
On his serene days, he’s not one to pause, reflect, lay back or mellow out. And so today, even as the former Georgia Tech linebacker/defensive end is in his ultimate psycho-physical comfort zone, he’s antsy as ever.
No offense to his parents, three siblings, friends or confidantes, but the NFL draft has arrived, his name will be called in it, and . . . he’s red-lining.
The first round will be this evening and the second and third rounds will be Friday. It’s a big deal, in case you didn’t know, and most prognosticators peg Attaochu to be a Day II selection.
He’ll keep tabs on the draft without sitting still even as family and friends try – perhaps in vain – to remain in his orbit.
“I’m doing pretty good, excited to see how the draft unfolds,” he said Tuesday by phone. “I’ll keep myself occupied and my phone line open. I won’t watch all of it… I just can’t sit in front of a TV for three hours at a time. I’ll try to keep my anxiety down.”
Attaochu figures to make himself something of a moving target over the next couple days. That’ll be in keeping with recent trajectories.
Don’t mistake this as a suggestion that Tech’s all-time sack leader (31.5) is a fidgety, nervous, twitching, toe-tapper.
That’s not the deal.
Since moving from Archbishop Carroll High School to Tech in the summer of 2010, he’s pursued a health, science & technology degree and a pro football career.
He’s done this like a hunter who sometimes stalks with diligent stealth and at others breaks into frenetic chase.
Bottom line, the young man is a chaser.
That will be part of his job description, and he’s been pursuing that job as if possessed by the spirit of Reggie White. He transitioned from outside linebacker to end last season and after a modest start to the season, put on the rush to ring up 12.5 sacks.
His pace has not waned.
A sane person would look at Attaochu’s schedule of the past four-plus months and wonder how he hasn’t had an anxiety attack.
In a postseason All-Star game (Senior Bowl), he suffered a torn right hamstring. That fetched dozens of doctor and rehabilitation trips.
Add the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, super-specialized mental and physical training in Florida, Georgia Tech’s Pro Day, numerous phone and in-person interviews with NFL team officials, and well, Attaochu may not have miles on his 21-year-old body, but he’s been in the air a good bit.
“The first three months [after Tech’s loss in the Music City Bowl], I was all over the place,” he recalled. “Now, things are kind of settling down a little.”
That hamstring injury in January’s Senior Bowl wrenched plans.
At the urging of his Atlanta-based agent, Pat Dye Jr., Attaochu was to spend time girding himself at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
The goal was to train for some of the drills that NFL officials run for aspiring professionals at the February Combine.
No surgery was required, but for about a month Attaochu was in rehab mode.
Mentally, IMG torqued him with the idea of preparing Attaochu for the psychological roller coaster of a pro career and the rigors of interviewing with multiple NFL teams ahead of time.
On Wednesday, an ESPN.com story about Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater offered insight into his visit with the IMG folks.
Here are excerpts:
“Rich [k]ids from all over the world are here to chase athletic dreams . . . ferried around a pristine campus in trams as if they’re at an amusement park, living in a high-rise dorm, eating food cooked by chefs, walking on manicured lawns.
“The campus is a self-contained ecosystem of personal improvement and self-absorption. There are strength coaches and speed coaches and mental coaches.”
So, that was different.
Like Bridgewater, Attaochu did not come from a wealthy family, and both of them were at IMG leveraging future contracts.
“It was very specific, a lot of mental conditioning . . . how to perform in high-pressure situations,” Jerry said.
“We did a lot of breathing techniques, strengthened our peripheral vision, thinking in high-pressure situations, thinking positive thoughts. We had Wonderlich Test classes.”
The ESPN.com story said that Bridgewater one day was given a sheet of paper, some wool, a can of baking grease, a candy bar, a handgun, a can of malt liquor, a rope and a lighter with no fluid.
Then, he was asked to come up with a plan to survive in a snowy wilderness with nothing else.
“It was definitely a big focus to train not only the body but the mind,” Attaochu said of the critical-thinking component of the IMG Academy experience.
Attaochu did not participate in physical activities at the NFL Combine because his hamstring was not yet up to that task, but he interviewed with several teams.
Both processes have continued.
Several NFL teams have invited Attaochu to visit their year-round facilities, including the Falcons and Redskins.
He claims not to have a preference for which team drafts him, but it sure seems like from talking to him over the years and even now that we all know better.
Having played linebacker at Tech for this first three seasons, including much of it in a 3-4 alignment that is popular in the NFL, Attaochu claims to not have a preference whether he is asked to play DE in the 4-3, or an OLB in a 3-4 – or both.
“Not really,” he said. “I have a comfort going into either position because I have done both.”
Comfort zone . . . funny phrase.
Nobody who grinds like Attaochu is finding a comfort zone any time soon.
He spent considerable time in Atlanta from March 28 until this Monday, working out with former teammates and good friends Jemea Thomas, David Sims and Charles Perkins among others. “It felt like home,” Attaochu said.
The Eagles, Chiefs, Titans, Patriots have also shown interest, but there is no way to be sure any of the teams that have sought to interview Attaochu will draft him over teams that have not.
Most teams have talked to him have indicated that they envision him playing in a scheme more like that of former Tech/NFL defensive coordinator Al Groh than a 4-3 in line with what the Jackets played last fall.
“I would say 80-20 it’s about playing a hybrid defensive end in a 3-4,” Attaochu said. “It’s a guessing game. There are teams that you didn’t visit . . . they’ll call and ask you what your draft day [phone] number will be.
“Some teams do their homework; they don’t need to call you. It’s all about who pulls the trigger first.”
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