Sam Acho laughed when he was asked about whether the numbers make the player.
It's an easy question to ask, particularly when discussing the mad numbers game that is the NFL Draft. Though if anyone would seem counter to that strategy — one honed on 40-yard dash times, bench press repetitions and standing broad jump inches — it would be Acho, former Texas standout and 2011 NFL Draft hopeful.
Often referred to as "a warrior" by former Texas defensive coordinator and current Florida coach Will Muschamp, Acho is exactly the try-hard presence that doesn't seem quantifiable by combine times or statistics.
There isn't a three-cone drill for heart, a fact pointed out by Acho, who figures to be among the players selected on the NFL Draft's second day.
"I think we're all more than just the numbers," Acho said. "Numbers are something you look at on paper. You can see them. But when you actually get a chance to meet the person and talk to them and see what kind of person they are, what kind of player they are, that speaks more than just the numbers."
Still, it's an interesting case to make for Acho. Because while his intangibles — or, in this case, think of them as un-measurables — are off the charts, his tangibles also serve to show what makes him so effective.
Sam Acho, by the numbers
Acho faced a daunting task when preparing for the 2011 NFL Draft. As a defensive end who often bounced inside to play tackle for a Longhorn team thin on the interior, Acho had to now focus on learning a whole new position.
See, there are two numbers working against Acho: his height, at 6-foot-2, and his weight, at 262 pounds. Both make him undersized to play defensive end in the NFL. But both also put him in the proper size range for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 formation. At that position, Acho would often rush the passer, as did in college, but also needed to display the lateral mobility and agility to cover faster players in space.
That sent him to work with Ignition Performance director Clif Marshall, who helped to trim Acho's body, working him on defensive back type cone drills to get quicker and better in coverage.
"One of the first things that I noticed when he started his training program week one was his attention to detail," Marshall said of Acho. "It's just through the roof. No. 2, it's his work ethic, and No. 3 was just the way that he made everyone around him better at our training program."
Those qualify as intangibles. But Acho's work also showed where the scouts wanted to see it: at the NFL Scouting Combine. Working out as a defensive lineman, Acho set the positional record for the three-cone drill, an agility test. His other efforts stacked up well against the linebackers in attendance. Acho ran a 4.68 40-yard dash. No linebacker within 10 pounds of Acho ran faster. His 20-yard shuttle time was 4.32 seconds, again faster than any player in his weight range, though Akeem Ayers, eight pounds lighter, was slightly quicker. His bench press repetitions and his vertical jump were also among the top-15 marks as a linebacker.
"At the combine, he finishes a top performer, breaks the record for the three-cone drill and ran in the 4.6s," Marshall said. "I think he opened a lot of eyes. But in addition to that, he's more a football player than he is a tester."
The numbers would back that up as well. In fact, the College Football Performance Awards named Acho as its defensive lineman of the year. The CFPA is different, in that the organization's winners are selected through meta-algorithms derived from differential equations, statistics and probability. In short: no ballots, just stats.
Acho had plenty of those. As a senior, he had 59 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, nine sacks, 17 pressures, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. His five fumble recoveries led the nation. He finished his Longhorn career with nine recovered fumbles, second on the Texas career charts, while he finished 10th in career sacks.
But that wasn't enough for the Longhorns to finish better than 5-7 in 2010.
"That's in the past. I'm looking forward," Acho said. "I'm excited to watch these guys and see what they're going to do next year."
Gotta have faith
Marshall admits that the process of molding an athlete for the draft can get "testy" at times. But not with Acho.
"It was great working with him because there are a lot of stresses day-to-day in this whole process. But from the ups and downs in the last three months, what I've seen of him is that he stays on an even keel," Marshall said. "I think it's because of the relationship he has with the Lord and how strong he is with his faith that he's able to do that."
Indeed, it's impossible to mention Acho without mentioning his faith.
"That's the only reason I do anything I do: to give God the glory," Acho said.
That faith is a large part of the reason that Acho and his family — through Living Hope Ministries — made several medical mission trips to his parents' native country of Nigeria. Acho helped to organize a fund-raiser in Dallas prior to the 2009-2010 trips, then he, along with his brother Emmanuel, took several Longhorn teammates on their last trip. Taking approximately 40 doctors, the ministries helped to provide medical treatment to Nigerians who may only have access to a doctor once per year. The family hopes to build a permanent clinic in the area soon.
"Being able to go to Nigeria and see to the great need there, and also come back and see people still giving back has given me a great perspective on life," Acho said. "It teaches me that there's more to life than just football. There's more to life than just Texas. There's more to life than just you. As a person, you have to do more. We're called to a higher purpose."
Acho's purpose has earned more accolades than his time as a player. This season, Acho earned the Campbell Trophy as college football's top student-athlete in combined academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership. He also won the Wuerffel Award and ARA Sportsmanship Award, and was named an Allstate AFCA Good Works Team member, an ESPN Academic All-America First Team member and a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy and Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The Sporting News tapped Acho as one of the "20 Smartest Athletes."
“Sam is as committed of a young man to his team, community, faith and family as anyone I have ever coached," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "He works as hard on the field as any player I've been around and is tireless in his efforts off the field. His accomplishments in the classroom are well documented but his efforts in the community are equal to that of his academic and athletic excellence.
"Whether it be taking a mission trip, gathering his teammates to visit patients at the children's hospital, putting together one of his weekly team bible studies or reaching out to anyone in need, Sam is a tremendous leader and just epitomizes the meaning behind student-athlete," Brown said. "He's the kind of kid that any parent would be proud to say is their son and other parents want their daughters to date. He is a wonderful, wonderful young man.”
So it comes as no surprise that Acho isn't focused on the other number associated with the draft, in which round he is taken.
"I don't deserve any of (this), not one bit of it. It's by God's grace that I am where I'm at," Acho said. "So honestly, you can say first round, second round, third round, but all that matters is that you go to the right team, the team that fits you. Look at some guys last year. They didn't get picked as high as they wanted, but it's been a perfect fit for them."
What fit does Acho think he'll provide?
"Whoever drafts me is getting a hard worker, somebody who's going to do whatever they can to help out their team win and win the Super Bowl," Acho said. "They're also going to be getting a positive person in the locker room. That might be the most important."