They’ll arrive in Indianapolis this week from all over the college football landscape. From Alabama and Ohio State, from Michigan and Baylor.
And, for only the second time ever, from Stony Brook University.
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Victor Ochi, a defensive end who in four seasons at Stony Brook became the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for a loss, will attend the NFL Combine this week.LI in the pros: NFL edition
“It’s really exciting,” Ochi said this past week as he put the finishing touches on his pre-Combine training in Pensacola, Florida. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s been my dream to make it to the NFL, and to see everything in front of me is pretty unreal. This has been my dream since I was 15 and I’m living it right now.”
Ochi didn’t know much about Stony Brook’s history when he signed up to play there out of Valley Stream Central High School five years ago. Not that there was much to learn, anyway. It had become a Division I program in 1999 and had never created much interest west of the Sagtikos Parkway.
Since then, a few significant ceilings have been broken through by Seawolves. In 2013, running back Miguel Maysonet became the first player in program history to get an invitation to the NFL Combine. In 2015, tight end Will Tye became the first player from the program to reach an active NFL roster, playing 13 games and catching three touchdown passes for the Giants.
The only thing missing, as Ochi knew when he arrived on campus and knows is still the case, is a draft pick. His job interview this week could go a long way toward changing that.
“At the end of the day, I control my own fate,” he said of not being dissuaded by the lack of Stony Brook players drafted by the NFL. “I’ll go as far as I want to go. My goals are high. I’m going to work hard to achieve my goals.”
He’s already made a good impression on scouts. While he crushed opponents at the FCS level for Stony Brook, compiling 23 sacks in his final two seasons, it wasn’t until he went to the East-West Shrine Game in January that he faced a higher level of competition from the bigger, more well-known schools. He wound up demolishing it all week in practices, made perhaps the biggest jump of any player on the field, and opened a lot of eyes in the NFL.
“He plays the game at full speed, whether it’s a sprint or an agility drill or if it’s third-and-10,” Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. “Not every kid is able to play the game at full speed all the time. I’m sure some of the guys who were there just don’t have that trait.”
About the only person Ochi didn’t impress at the Shrine Game and practices was himself.
“I already knew I had the goods going into it,” he said. “I didn’t prove anything to myself. I was able to be in an atmosphere where I was able to go against [that level of competition] every day and be dominant.”
Still, he’s far from a lock. He’s only 6-1, so he might not be tall enough to be an every-down defensive end in a 4-3 scheme (he believes his long wingspan makes up for that). He doesn’t have blinding speed (he believes being relentless can make up for that, too). He projects more as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, a specialist who can excel at one job (he believes he can convince teams that it is the most important one on defense).
He may have gotten some recent help in that last regard. If watching Super Bowl 50 and linebacker Von Miller taught NFL personnel people anything, it’s that pass rushers are an antidote to premier passers, even those who win MVPs during the regular season.
“What I do best is get after quarterbacks, and at the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with a pass rusher,” Ochi said. “I know that’s what the league is looking for.”
“When you throw film on of him, probably the most impressive thing was his ability to disrupt the offensive scheme both physically and athletically,” Priore said. “That’s what the NFL looks for is people who can disrupt.”
Some teams likely will remove him from their draft boards based on his measurables, but he is projected to go anywhere between the third and sixth rounds of the draft. It takes only one team to see his potential, just as Stony Brook was the only college program to offer him a scholarship.
“Coach P was the one who rolled the dice and took me,” Ochi said. “I proved him right and made him a very happy man at the end of the day.”
Now he wants to make an NFL coach just as giddy.
Of course, he’s not there yet. The draft isn’t until the spring. Right now his focus is on the Combine. He’s been training, mostly by himself and not with other potential draft picks, at a facility set up by his Long Island-based agent, Alan Herman.
Beyond the physical demands of the Combine are the mental ones. Ochi said those will be the most difficult. He’s heard the stories about the obtuse questions during interviews with teams, about the 4:30 a.m. drug tests, and about all of the other pokings and proddings that go on during the week.
“It’s game day for me, and that’s how I approach it,” he said. “It’s no different for me than stepping on the field and making plays. With the mindset I have, it’s not going to be much of an issue. It might be challenging, we’re all human, but I’m going to embrace each part of it.”
It is, after all, what he’s been waiting for since the end of his breakout 2014 season as a junior.
“My coach sat me down at the end of the season and told me that if I got after it in my senior year, I could have a successful career going forward,” Ochi said. “I took it to heart. And look at me now.”