INDIANAPOLIS — When Victor Ochi wanted to learn how to play football, he watched the Giants.
Lawrence Taylor. Michael Strahan. Osi Umenyiora. The young teenager from Valley Stream would pore over their tape on Sundays and on YouTube during the week to teach himself how to torment quarterbacks.
The Giants certainly have had a long chain of accomplished pass rushers over the years. Is it possible that Ochi could be the next link?
“If they take the chance on me,” Ochi said Friday, “you could find yourself another pass rusher coming soon.”
Brash talk from the NFL Combine for an undersized defensive end who hails from a college that has never had a player drafted by an NFL team, has produced only one NFL player, and has had its name mangled by national sportswriters trying to figure out exactly where this prospect is from. Stony Brook University has been called everything from Stoney Brooke to Stonybrook College this week, especially since ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. mentioned Ochi four times — unsolicited — in his conference call with the media earlier this week. Kiper even projected him as a third-round pick.
“Certainly, Ochi from Stony Brook is a guy that I think you have to keep a real close eye on,” Kiper said. “This kid had big-time sacks in high school, again at Stony Brook and at the All-Star Game. He’s done it all.”
Despite his obscure roots, Ochi did not come across as a tourist at the Combine. He made it clear he belonged among the best players in the country. He downplayed the knock on his height (6-1), noting that recent Super Bowl MVP Von Miller came into the league at “damn near the same size.” He spoke about using his hands and his leverage to beat defensive linemen. And he shrugged off the question of whether he is better suited to play standing up or with his hand on the ground.
“Whatever one lets me get after the quarterback,” he said. “That’s what I’m really going to get my money off anyway. Whether I put my hand on the ground or I stand up, it’s not going to make a difference.”
A happy-to-be-here long shot? Not in his mind.
“I’m going to make plays when I go to the league,” he said. “If I didn’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The Giants are one of the teams that certainly could use that. Their pass rush was stagnant in 2015, far removed from the dominance that Ochi’s idols used to provide. He might not be a perfect fit for their scheme — many project him as more of a 3-4 edge-rusher and he will participate in some linebacker drills Sunday — but he could bring a spark to the defensive line if he is there when the Giants pick in the middle rounds.
Ochi didn’t watch only the Giants when he was younger, but he watched them this past season when former Stony Brook teammate Will Tye emerged as a rookie tight end, and the first Seawolf to play in the NFL.
“It was great, especially on Sundays when you are at the house with your teammates and you see a former teammate go out there and make plays,” he said of watching Tye. “You could say: ‘I played ball with him! I went against him!’ I was a defensive end, so to say I went against him in practices was cool.”
Ochi said he wasn’t surprised that Tye flourished.
“I’ve always respected Will Tye as an athlete and as a player,” Ochi said. “As a former teammate, I expected nothing less from him, and I’m going to do the same myself.”
Ochi’s path to the NFL may have been a lifelong journey, but in terms of this draft, it is only getting started. He arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday night. On Friday morning, he was measured — 6 feet, 1 1⁄8 inches tall, 246 pounds, with arms 33¾ inches long — and went through medical examinations. On Saturday he will perform his bench presses. On Sunday he will be on the field going through the various drills for defensive linemen and linebackers. In between are meetings and interviews with teams that want to learn a little bit more about him.
The Giants and Jets — who met with Ochi at the East-West Shrine Game last month — are not the only teams with local roots who could be interested in Ochi. Falcons coach Dan Quinn spoke about the prospect earlier this week. Quinn and Stony Brook linebackers coach Bobby McIntyre were on the same staff at Hofstra in the late 1990s, so Quinn already has gotten some background through that relationship.
And Ochi knows Quinn, too.
“He’s a great defensive mind,” Ochi said. “I’ve known about him since he was at Hofstra.”
But Ochi was quick to say he doesn’t care which team drafts him. Sure, playing for the Giants would be cool, allow him to stay close to home and reunite him with Tye, but he’s not focusing on them. The Jets would have some of the same benefits, but he isn’t thinking green, either. Nor is he picturing himself lining up for Quinn and the Falcons.
“I’ve thought about going to the NFL; I don’t have a specific team,” he said. “Whoever takes a chance on me is not going to regret it.”
And they’ll also have to learn to spell Stony Brook.