Victor Ochi was a raw kid trying out for the football team at Valley Stream Central High School, a novice who loved watching Giants defensive end Michael Strahan on TV, who got a thrill from highlights of linebacker Lawrence Taylor on YouTube. But he never actually played the game until he finally convinced his parents to let him go out for the team as a sophomore.
There was a moment when it became clear to Ochi and his coaches that he might be something special. "One practice I was on the scout defense," Ochi recalled. "One of the quarterbacks got me mad, and I just wrecked practice up. They weren't getting anything to my side, and I was chasing everything from the back side. From then on, the coaches were like, 'All right, we have to work with him.' "
Ochi went from being a raw talent to a legitimate NFL prospect at Stony Brook. On Saturday afternoon, the preseason All-FCS defensive end will play his final college game for the Seawolves (4-5, 2-5 CAA) against Albany (3-7, 2-5) at LaValle Stadium with a chance to add to his SBU career records for sacks (30.5) and tackles for loss (45.5).
"He came in as an undersized, athletic kid who had somewhat limited football experience, and he's developed himself off the field physically, has learned the game, has paid a price, plays on the field at 100 percent, and he loves the game," coach Chuck Priore said. "The scouts say he's going to be a hybrid outside linebacker in a 3-4 who can pass rush. Every team has been here multiple times."
Walking onto the field before the game with his parents, Emmanuel and Queen, will be a special moment for Ochi because they know how far he has traveled. As they did with Ochi's two brothers and a sister, they sent him to Nigeria to live with his aunt, Priscilla Ogbaji, from the age of 9 to 12 because they believed it was important for him to be exposed to another culture.
"I had to let go of the sense of entitlement," Ochi said. "When I was over in Nigeria, I had to work for things a lot more than I did here. You have to develop a work ethic to survive. And the sense of family is important . . . When I came back, people acknowledged me as a respectful, hard-working young man."
Still, it took several years for Ochi to convince his parents to allow him to play football. "Ironically, my parents liked watching the game, too," Ochi said. "My father is a diehard Jets fan. They wanted education to be a big part of my life growing up. They didn't want me to think sports was the go-to, as any parent would."
His parents got their wish when Ochi walked with his class at commencement last spring, and he will complete work on his Health Sciences degree specializing in health care management at the end of this semester. But his emergence last season as an all-CAA defensive end means Ochi will have a chance to pursue his NFL dreams.
He credits a talk with Priore before last season for bringing the best out of him. "Coach P made me evaluate myself," Ochi said. "I had potential, but potential is unachieved success. He made me emphasize that the little things had to change -- schoolwork, the way I worked in the weight room, just every aspect of life. He made me grow up a lot these past couple years."
Opposing offenses build their game plans around neutralizing Ochi, but he still has 11 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss this season. "We have probably one of the best defensive coaching staffs in the nation," Ochi said. "[Defensive coordinator Lyle] Hemphill is a genius. He's a phenomenal coach. He's put me in a lot of good positions to make plays despite all the attention I was getting."
Two weeks ago, the Seawolves had a school-record 12 sacks in a win over Howard, including three by Ochi. That day, Ochi tied the SBU career record for tackles for a loss that was set by his high school defensive line coach John Kostkowicz.
"It was an honor breaking that," said Ochi, who broke the record in a win last week at Rhode Island. "He told me I better break his record or he'd get after me. He came out the week before the Howard game, and he came to the game as well."
Now, Ochi is down to his final college game, and he plans to make it special. "I've got to leave everything on the field," Ochi said. "It's great that it's Albany because it's our rivalry game, and I didn't get a chance to play against them last year because of an ankle sprain. Our defense is going to come to play. Just know that. It's going to be great."