Akina, a coaching veteran of 28 years, has tutored three winners of the Thorpe Award, which is given annually to the nation's most outstanding defensive back, with Ross the most recent recipient. Here's what Akina had to say about New York's first-round pick.
Q: What can you tell us about Aaron?
A: There are a lot of things about him. His football credentials have spoken for themselves. I think what the Giants are getting is just a good guy, a great football player, a great teammate. He's very unselfish. Whatever it takes to win, he will do – special teams, nickel, corner, safety. He just is a high character guy and a good football player. He's very resilient. He's overcome so much in his career to get where he's gotten. I'm just so happy for him, but I'm not surprised in the least that he went in the first round.
Q: Can you explain exactly what happened with his transcripts and grades that led to him missing two years?
A: It all started with them misreading his transcript coming out of high school. He was here, practicing in two-a-days and doing really well when it became apparent that there was a grade missing. Whether it was Texas, the clearinghouse or his high school, there was a grade there that was misinterpreted. After practicing for two weeks, we had to tell him that his GPA did not match his SAT scores and that he couldn't play that fall, and he was crushed. Then he had to go and retake the test and originally he couldn't get the proper score. It literally took him two years to get back here. He ended up having to go back to high school so he could change some of those grades. He's just very resilient. Then when he finally got back here, he hurt his hamstring and had to wait even longer to play. He really didn't become an official starter until he was a senior. Then he had a huge year and walked away with the Thorpe Award. He continued to battle the whole time he was here. You just can't deny that kid. He's very tough physically and very tough mentally.
Q: How do you think Aaron will fit into Steve Spagnuolo's aggressive, press defense?
A: That's Aaron's world, now. He's a very talented athlete. He's a press bump-and-run, man-cover guy. But where he's different – and I compare him to Nathan Vashar – is that he can finish plays. He's a playmaking corner. He's a very physical player – he's all over our big-hit film here. I know there are great players up there but I really don't think he'll be intimidated. He's been matched with Ted Ginn, Jr., Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith in the Rose Bowl, Mark Clayton … he's played some really quality receivers, along with defending Roy Williams and other star receivers here in practice. He won't be intimidated with the fast track; he'll relish that, in fact. I think he'll have a very long career.
Q: Do you foresee him cracking the starting lineup by opening day?
A: Well, I don't know who's there and you're asking a coach that sees things 20/20 when you ask him about his own player, but he certainly has the ability. With the Giants using their first pick on him, they obviously understand his skills. If the Giants didn't take him, there were an awful lot of people that were real interested in him in the first round.
Q: What's one thing that separates him from the pack?
A: The ability to make plays, without a doubt. He's a playmaker. This year alone, he had six interceptions, caused three fumbles, recovered two fumbles and he's returned three punts for scores in his career. He's tied for the most punt-return touchdowns in the history of the University of Texas. There have been a lot of excellent punt returners that have walked through the door and all of them are behind Aaron Ross in touchdowns. He's just a guy that can make plays and he does it in big games. If you watched our game with Oklahoma, he just took the game over in the fourth quarter. He had two interceptions and a recovered fumble that he ran in for a touchdown. Against Nebraska, it didn't look good for us at all. All they had to do was get one more first down. But they threw a ball in the flat, Aaron came up and hit the receiver and caused a fumble. We recovered and went down to score the winning points with less than two minutes to play. He just has a knack of making big plays at critical times.
Q: Off the field, what kind of guy is Aaron?
A: He's very personable, and has a great smile. He's very low maintenance for any coaching staff. He's your ultimate team player; he's very unselfish. Here's a great player that was more than willing to play on all special teams for us. He's a very pleasant guy.
Q: And what about his more-famous-than-he-is girlfriend?
A: That's a heck of a story. Sanya Richards is the world's fastest female in the 400 and she's going to win the gold medal for us for sure. She's the fastest female in the world right now. I used to bust his chops all the time that until he was the best in the world he was still going to only be second in his own home.
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