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Senior Spotlight: Bobby Okereke

A 2018 team captain, fifth-year inside linebacker Bobby Okereke led the Cardinal in tackles last season. He'll play alongside 2018 First-Team All-Pro Darius Leonard next season in Indianapolis. (KAREN AMBROSE HICKEY/isiphotos.com)

This article is part of The Daily Sports staff’s running series on graduating seniors.

Senior Bobby Okereke is a two-time All-Pac-12 honorable mention, and has started for the past two years at middle linebacker for the Stanford football team. The 2018 team captain led the team in tackles in his final year with the Cardinal, setting the stage for a productive pre-draft process that boosted his stock as an NFL prospect. After strong showings at the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and Stanford’s Pro Timing Day, Okereke was selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft last Friday by the Indianapolis Colts. The Daily’s Shan Reddy spoke with Okereke to reflect on his time at Stanford and the pre-draft process that led to his selection by the Colts.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Looking back on your college career, what was the most memorable moment of your time playing at Stanford?

Bobby Okereke (BO): When Conrad Ukropina kicked that game-winning field goal against Notre Dame, and all the fans stormed the stadium and we had a little party on the field. That was a crazy moment.

TSD: Who did you look up to and learn from most over your time at Stanford?

BO: Coming in as a freshman and seeing guys like Blake Martinez, AJ Tarpley — veterans, savvy football players. Being a young redshirt freshman, learning from guys like Craig Jones and seeing the work ethic they had, those guys put me on the trajectory that I’m on today.

TSD: When did you know football was something you wanted to pursue as a career?

BO: Towards the end of my high school career. I started playing football my freshman year of high school. Few of my friends were playing Pop Warner, so I wanted to join them in high school. Ended up getting called up to varsity earlier and started seeing some early success. I liked the competition and the brotherhood; that was when I figured out this is what I wanted to do, towards the end of my high school career.

Okereke impressed NFL brass at Stanford’s Pro Timing Day, displaying impressive agility and change-of-direction. Though he did not run the 40-yard dash, Okereke ran a 7.03 three-cone, just faster than LSU first-rounder Devin White’s 7.07. (Courtesy of Stanford Athletics)

TSD: Your pre-draft process has been a long one. Walk me through how it’s been for you over the past few months.

BO: It’s been a grind, starting from Senior Bowl. You’re basically getting a month off your season and then you’re going into live practices that are very intense, and then playing a game, and then getting ready with those mock interviews and combine speed training and agility training, and then going into the combine and competing, then all the interviews — it’s all kind of intense. Coaches just pry into your private life trying to figure out everything about you, trying to get to know you as a person. It’s just been competition this whole time, all the way up to the pro day.

Courtesy of Indianapolis Colts (@colts)

TSD: Did you have any suspicion that the Colts would pick you?

BO: I talked to them again after my Pro Day and had a formal interview with them at the combine, but I was just hanging out with family thinking I was possibly going to get called day two, possibly day three — so I’m glad the Colts pulled the trigger when they did.

TSD: I know it’s early, but do you have any thoughts on the linebacker group you’re joining in Indy, especially with Darius Leonard coming off of a First-Team All-Pro season in his rookie year there?

BO: Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker Jr. — I’m coming into a good, young, but very talented linebacker group and a young defense that played really well last season and is talented as well. I’m excited to be a part of it.

TSD: You were one of only two Stanford players invited to the Senior Bowl this year. What was that week like?

BO: That was a great experience. You play a bowl game, and then a month later you’re out there competing in practice. Practices are basically a glorified game. You’re out there competing as hard as you can. There are a lot of coaches are there, a lot of scouts are there. You’re trying to put your best foot forward. Then you go into the game and you’re kind of just having fun, but you’re surrounded by some of the best seniors from around the country. It’s a very competitive environment.

TSD: What was the process like for you as a Stanford student? Do you think coaches or evaluators treated you differently as a Stanford player?

BO: Some coaches really dug into how much I love football. They may look at your background and see maybe you were in Scouts growing up, or you were in choir, or you had all of these other avenues of things that you were successful. In true Stanford fashion you’re like a Renaissance man — you can excel in different areas. So I just had to relay to them that whatever I put my focus and my mind to I’m going to give my best and 100 percent effort to.

Senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside (left) and Okereke (right) were the first two Stanford players selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. Also a 2018 team captain, Arcega-Whiteside was picked by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round. (BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

TSD: Did you have a chance to catch up with any of your Stanford teammates drafted before or after you?

BO: “I trained with JJ [Arcega-Whiteside] down in Irvine for a couple of months — I facetimed him before the draft started, and he facetimed me after we both had gotten drafted —  and we have the same agent so we’re both on the same page there. I went to the senior bowl with Jake [Bailey]. I knew he would get drafted. He’s very talented and has had a very successful career. I’m just happy for Kaden and Bryce; Bryce and I text back and forth poking fun at each other — motivating each other.

TSD: So many players have come through Stanford’s program and gone on to have success in the NFL. Did you have a chance to catch up with any of those players?

BO: It was really good seeing Christian and Solomon at our pro day coming back to support the guys in our class. I’m always picking their brains — they’re vets in the league now — and it’s great that they’re still close friends. Going to the Colts, I got a call from Andrew Luck to welcome me to the team and give me some words of wisdom. Any time those NFL vets come back in the offseason, it’s good to be around them to see their work ethic and focus.

TSD: Is there anyone in the NFL you model your game after?

BO: [chuckling] Darius Leonard — that’s gonna be a great guy in the room to learn from. I’m excited just to see his work ethic, and how he attacks his preparation. Jaylon Smith is another guy — fast, athletic. I’m just gonna try to do my best every day and be fast and physical and fly around the field.

TSD: What’s next?

BO: Rookie mini-camp is on Thursday [May 2]. This is my last day celebrating the draft — I have a lot of family here — and then I’ll get back to training tomorrow and working out before I head out.

Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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