Finally, it was Victor Ochi’s time to be the teacher.
The Valley Stream native was at Mott Haven Academy Charter in the Bronx on Wednesday evening, working with the Bubble Foundation to give a group of fourth-graders a lesson on health and wellness.
In a way, it was a reversal of roles for the Kansas City Chiefs edge rusher, who a little more than a year ago was at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis for the biggest job interview of his life. At the time, he was viewed as a raw talent who needed to learn a completely new position in order to make it in the NFL.
So, just like those fourth-graders, Ochi sat and studied from some of the best. And now, he is just enthusiastic as those kids were.
“I’m excited to get the offseason rolling,” Ochi said. “I’m excited to learn. I can never stop learning.”
In addition to the physical, Xs-and-Os transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker, Ochi learned a lot about the cerebral side of being an NFL player.
“There’s some things that you have to adapt to, to be out of your control, that you have to adapt to,” he said. “And just knowing your role on the team, knowing your role on the defense, and just really being more of a student of the game. Everybody out there’s athletic, everybody out there is elite, you have your freaks. What’s going to separate people is the mental part of the game. Are you two steps ahead of your opponent?”
The journey didn’t come without a few bumps, though.
Ochi, Stony Brook’s career leader in sacks (32 1/2) and tackles for loss (49), signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent, spent training camp and preseason with them and then was waived during final roster cuts. He eventually signed with the Jets’ practice squad and was promoted to the active roster on Oct. 22 for a game against his former team. He played a handful of snaps and recorded a tackle, then saw some time in the Jets’ win over the Cleveland Browns the next week before being waived on Nov. 5. The Jets re-signed him to the practice squad the following week, where he finished out the regular season.
“There were some chances, there were some times where I felt like things were not in my favor, but it was all out of my control, so I felt like I handled every situation well and I always rebounded,” Ochi said.
Then, on Jan. 3, everything changed.
Ochi had just wrapped up an end-of-season meeting with Jets head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan. They told him, Ochi said, to start diving into the playbook and preparing for next season.
Then, while heading home, he got a call from his agent, Alan Herman.
“I’m driving home, and Alan calls me and asks me, ‘So how do you feel about playing for the playoffs?,’” Ochi recalled. “I’m like, ‘Man, let’s sign the contract!’ It happened so fast, I wasn’t even overwhelmed. I’m like, ‘Man, let’s make moves.’”
Two hours later, he was on a plane to Missouri to meet with Chiefs brass and sign the deal.
“It probably was one of the biggest turning points for me this season, if not the biggest, because I thought the season was over and I was just ready to start all over again,” Ochi said.
He was inactive for the Chiefs’ playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he’s on the team’s active roster, so he’ll have a chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp this summer.
And he’ll get a chance to continue to learn, this time from two of the NFL’s top pass rushers in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, who have a combined 149 1/2 career sacks.
“Honestly, there’s no better teachers than the people who have done it and excelled in it for years,” Ochi said. “And I definitely want to take advantage of the opportunity, pick their brains, get a couple of pointers.”
Even though his rookie year basically amounted to a redshirt season, Ochi gave his experience an “A-plus.”
“It was everything I asked for,” he said. “There were some bright spots that really made me look back and just thank God.”
For now, Ochi is back on Long Island with his family and training for his season – this time with a lot more knowledge at his disposal.
Said Ochi: “Definitely worth the journey I’ve been through.”