Big things predicted for big tackle from the beginning of his career
Michael Oher, an All-American, should be taken early in this month's draft
Oher was making the transition from homelessness to his adoptive family
His grace is what draws NFL scouts, but it was his size that first brought attention
Editor's Note: Michael Oher, the All-American left tackle from Mississippi, was considered a first-round draft pick almost from the moment scouts got a look at him. As the April 25 NFL draft approaches, Oher shares his experiences with The Associated Press in the second of four planned stories.
The highlight tape was grainy and hard to make out when Tom Lemming popped it into the player.
The high school football talent scout had no idea where the tape came from. It was accompanied by an unsigned letter that outlined a player from Memphis who Lemming had never heard of -- Michael Oher.
"I get a million tapes sent to me, and I feel obligated to look at every one -- a lot of times just a quick glance," Lemming said. "You could see right away there was this monster kid knocking over people without a lot of technique or anything else, but with a lot of athletic ability. That's why I was intrigued."
Lemming met Oher a short time later and watched the player walk in from the parking lot.
"He looks like a house walking into a bigger house," Lemming thought.
The scout was working for ESPN at the time and called his bosses right away to tell them about Oher. He compared the 6-foot-5, 320-pound left tackle to No. 1 overall NFL draft selection Orlando Pace -- a comparison not made lightly. Prospects often look heavier on film than they actually are, but when Lemming saw Oher in person, he seemed much bigger. Lemming knew he had everything you could want in a left tackle.
"He was a monster at 17," Lemming said.
Five years later Oher is on the verge of making Lemming's prediction look very good. Expected to be taken in the first round, the All-American from Mississippi is on a tour of NFL cities. He was in Minnesota late Wednesday night when he took a few minutes to update The Associated Press on his life as the April 25-26 NFL draft approaches.
Oher dimly remembers meeting with Lemming during a time of great change in his life later chronicled in Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side." He was making the transition from homelessness to his adoptive family. He was trying to repair a series of poor grades in high school that threatened any hope he had of playing football in college. And he was doing these things in relative obscurity.
After Lemming's assessment hit, though, Memphis became a very popular tourist attraction for college assistant coaches suddenly wanting to visit tiny Briarcrest Christian, a school not known as a football factory.
"They really started coming the spring after my junior football season," Oher said. "I was very excited. I had these scouts coming around. Playing football, I thought I could probably do something with it.
"I started playing football in eighth grade. I've started every game since I started playing football except for two games. I didn't start a game in ninth grade because it was senior night and my freshman year in college, my first game."
Oher's grace is what draws NFL scouts to him. But it was his size that first brought attention. He distinctly remembers the first time he noticed he was bigger than everyone he knew, including most adults.
"(A growth spurt) probably started when I was 12," he said. "Then when I was 14 I came outside, and I was just bigger than everybody. That's when I knew I was a big guy."
Big doesn't always mean good, though. Sometimes it means slow and clumsy. But Oher is not built like the average NFL lineman. He is not pear-shaped, nor does he have a gut. He runs like a sprinter and pivots and changes direction much like a basketball player. As those scouts and college coaches dropped by, they talked to him about his great potential.
It wasn't long before Oher felt as if there were always eyes upon him when he was on the football field. That's because there were.
Oher decided he did not want to disappoint.
"That's why I felt I had to work hard and outwork everybody," Oher said. "People said things about me, and I'm the type of guy I just wanted to prove myself, not let anybody down and keep going."
He tries to avoid the rampant speculation on TV and the Internet. Some have projected him as high as a top-10 pick, others don't list him in the first round. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, the talking head with the most street cred, has steadfastly predicted Philadelphia will take him with the 21st pick to replace departed Tra Thomas.
Kiper's projection hasn't made it to Oher, though.
"Those people are not the ones drafting, so I leave that up to the GMs and people like that who are really going to invest in me," Oher said.
He's currently on a tour of nine NFL teams as the draft approaches. The teams on his itinerary with the highest picks are St. Louis, which recently released Pace, at No. 2 and Cincinnati at No. 6.
He hasn't picked up any clues during his tour about where he'll end up but figures his body of work will carry the day. He's been beaten on single plays before, but he has never left a game feeling he was bested that day.
"I always feel like I have a good game," Oher said. "The competitive nature, I just can't give a guy props or whatever. I never tell an opponent 'good game.' I never do none of that because I'm so competitive."
Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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