Russell Okung's degree from the school of hard knocks

Published on May 2, 2010 by     Seahawk Fanatic

When Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll visited Russell Okung prior to the NFL draft, the two went bowling.

It wasn’t a method of scouting the cross-over athleticism of the Oklahoma State offensive tackle … just a means of getting to know him. Okung was a lot less impressive as a bowler than a left tackle prospect. He said he rolled “like a 50.”

Fact is, there weren’t a lot of recreational trips to the bowling alley when Okung was young. His background was filled with hardship and challenges, with his father being murdered when he was 5, and his mother devoting her life to supporting her children.

And while Okung will never be a professional bowler, it is hoped that he soon will be a Pro Bowler. If he does, it’s likely that his motivation will arise from the lessons learned about hard work from his mother.

“I come from very humble beginnings,” Okung said in a phone interview after the Seattle Seahawks used the No. 6 pick of the draft to conscript him. “You learn how to be a hard worker, and be somebody who has a lot of drive, who is self-motivated.”

And on the field?

“(I’m) a guy who loves the game and has a lot of passion and really busts his tail; you never see me lazy, never see me complaining, (a player who) is willing to do whatever it takes to win.”

In short, he’s exactly what Seahawks line coach Alex Gibbs wanted. The famously reclusive Gibbs was so excited about Okung that he came to the press room and talked about him – at length.

Gibbs talked about his size and stature, but seemed more excited about Okung’s intangibles, his passion, his dedication.

“Football is his life,” Gibbs said. “He’s so committed to what he wants to do … he’s football. It’s the most important thing in his life. He’s a committed young player, which is rare in today’s world. We have a guy who is going to come early, stay late, and aspires to be outstanding within himself.”

On the presumption that Walter Jones (the last left tackle the Seahawks got with a No. 6 pick) is retiring, Gibbs said that Okung will be plugged in as a starter immediately.

Okung said he hoped he could be as productive as Jones, but his only promise was “I’m going to go out there and bust my tail every day.”

Okung was accompanied to New York for the draft by his mother, Dorothy, his sister, his pastor, and his college strength coach, representing the cornerstones of his life: His family, his faith, and the guy who, uh, helped him to do 38 repetitions with 225 pounds at the combine.

He said his mother’s reaction to his draft-day success was the same as his. “She knows how hard it’s been; how tough it’s been, and I just hope I took a lot of weight off her shoulders.”

Eric Adelson of Yahoo!Sports wrote an inspiring feature on Okung recently, reporting that his father had been shot and killed while working at a gas station in Houston in 1992. His mother worked multiple jobs throughout his childhood, and Okung assumed the role of man of the house from an early age.

“Over the course of days, I wouldn’t see my mom,” Okung said in the Yahoo! story. “But there was food on the table; she was providing. You could see the struggle, but not once did I see her actually complain.”

Okung would have been a certain draft pick had he decided to turn pro after his junior season, but stayed at Oklahoma State because he promised his mother he would get his degree.

Now, he’s polished and proven. The blocking scheme he learned at OSU is similar to what Gibbs is teaching with the Seahawks, so he’s got a built-in head start on learning it. But that wasn’t enough, as Gibbs credited Okung for having had the enterprise to start studying the schemes of the teams who might draft him.

As for being picked by Seattle, Okung said he’d have been happy going anywhere, but he said he believed “Seattle made the best choice.”

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