Georgia (Tech) Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets
Archbishop John Carroll High School
Voted by his teammates as the player on the roster "most likely to be an NFL star" prior to his senior season, Attaochu more that lived up to the locker room's expectations from him in 2013. A versatile athlete who began his Tech career as a weak-side outside linebacker before shifting to the strong-side as a sophomore, he was again shifted during his final season, taking over demanding weak-side defensive end duties that saw the 242-pound Ibadan, Nigeria yield considerable bulk to the opposing offensive tackles each week.
The staff felt the move was necessary, as they considered Attaochu's biggest strength was his ability to pressure the quarterback, evident by his school career-record 31.5 sacks since arriving on campus as a freshman.
Asked prior to the team's meeting up with Mississippi in the 2013 Music City Bowl if he could predict the amount of sacks he would record in his final college game, Attaochu laughed and refused to make any sort of statistical forecast.
"I don't ever really have a number," Attaochu said. "My thing is just keep grinding and keep playing, and I know I'm going to get [sacks]. I don't really think about numbers. I mean, just one would be nice."
Throughout his Georgia Tech career, the athlete who tried out for football in high school simply because he got tired of just watching it on television, has shown a special knack for wreaking havoc in the backfield, especially during his junior and senior seasons, where he combined to drop the quarterback 22.5 times in 26 contests.
Even though his senior season started slowly, Attaochu went on to record 12.5 sacks in 2013, which tied for fourth on the school season-record list, which was also good for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and sixth nationally. Among active NCAA FBS players, he is second with 31.5 total sacks and first with thirty solo stops and 226 lost yardage, which is also fifth-best in Tech annals.
Attaochu was the logical choice by the staff to move from linebacker to end, fitting in nicely in new defensive coordinator Ted Roof's 4-3 scheme. In the Yellow Jackets' 41-34 double-overtime loss to rival Georgia in late November, Attaochu sacked Bulldogs quarterback Hutson Mason four times, the third-largest single-game total in school history. 10 of his sacks came in the season's final five regular season games.
The senior credits his surge to his teammates, who helped keep Georgia Tech's campaign from derailing earlier this fall. After the Yellow Jackets opened 3-0, they dropped three straight to Virginia Tech, Miami and BYU, respectively. Attaochu had only two sacks through the first six games, a noticeable dip from his 10-sack junior season in 2012. Hishis decision to bypass the NFL draft to return for his senior year seemed questionable.
"He just drew so much attention the first couple of games," Georgia Tech defensive line coach Mike Pelton said. "But sacks come in bunches, and I told him that eventually he was going to get it. Staying with it long enough, he understood what it took."
Attaochu took it upon himself to make sure he closed his senior season the right way. Having spent much of his prep career at Archbishop Carroll High in Washington, D.C., as a defensive end, he reverted to his old habits in order to thrive while playing with his hand in the dirt. According to Pelton, that task wasn't terribly difficult for a player with Attaochu's skill set. "We could stand him up and put him at safety, and he'd probably get back there and be a player," Pelton said.
Said Attaochu of his late-season success: "It was definitely a unit thing. I was coming off the ball the same way I was coming off at the beginning of the season. It was just our unit, when everybody started clicking, I started making more plays."
Attaochu's 31.5 sacks are more than former Atlantic Coast Conference standouts Julius Peppers (30.5) and Mario Williams (25.5) had during their distinguished careers. Pelton likens Attaochu to a pair of defensive ends in the NFL. The coach says his versatility makes him a mix of DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora, two players whom Pelton coached while he was an assistant at Troy from 2001 to '06.
"He can stand up and rush like Ware did, or he can get out and play the run like Osi," Pelton said. "[Attaochu] fits right in there with those guys. I wouldn't be surprised if he went to the NFL and had a great career." Attaochu helped Roof replace two starters on the defensive line in the coordinator's first season back with the Yellow Jackets. Roof spent much of the year marveling at the senior's development.
"If you look at the last half of his season, I'm really proud of him with how much he's improved," Roof said. "With seniors a lot of times, you may not see that drastic improvement. But he's had drastic improvement. I think that he's had an outstanding year."
"These days, it's football on any given Saturday," Attaochu said. "The talent is pretty much spread out even. The guy I'm going up against, I might be better than him every week, regardless of conference. I don't really think about that. I'm just trying to finish things out strong and enjoy every minute of it."
Before joining the Georgia Tech program, Attaochu was first introduced to the game of football in the ninth grade at Archbishop Carroll High School. He was rated the 17th-best player in the mid-Atlantic region by Super Prep after lining up at both defensive end and linebacker for three seasons, serving as team captain as a junior and senior.
During his junior campaign, Attaochu recorded 60 tackles with 12 sacks. Even though the team compiled a 2-8 record, he delivered 118 tackles and 14 sacks as a senior. He also recorded four touchdowns that year by blocking kicks or returning fumbles.
Attaochu has all the physical tools coaches seek. He is strong, fast and athletic. He is also a smart player. Even though he played defensive end in 2013, he shows good linebacker skills as well. He is very fast off the edge as a pass rusher and has the athleticism to drop in space and run down screen plays. He has the frame to add weight and strength needed to hold the edge in the NFL, especially on running plays right at him.
Lining up behind Anthony Egbuniwe at right outside linebacker as a true freshman, Attaochu only recorded 23 tackles in 2010, but he collected three sacks, all coming on third-down snaps. He took over strong-side linebacker chores as a sophomore and was credited with 59 tackles, pacing the Yellow Jackets with six sacks and 11.5 stops-for-loss, the sixth-best figure in the ACC for the 2011 campaign.
Attaochu started 13 contests at strong-side linebacker as a junior. The All-ACC honorable mention produced a career-high 69 tackles (44 solos) and again led Tech with 10 sacks, the eighth-best season total at the school, along with delivering 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. His sack total was the third-best in the conference for the 2012 schedule.
The move to weak-side defensive end earned Attaochu All-ACC first-team recognition and a berth on the roster for the 2014 Senior Bowl. He came up with 45 tackles, 37 of them solo hits, leading the team for the third consecutive season with 12.5 sacks. It also marked his third season pacing Tech in tackles-for-loss (16).
Attaochu started 37-of-49 games at Georgia Tech, lining up at strong-side linebacker for 24 starting assignments and then at weak-side defensive end for his final 13 with the first unit…Recorded 196 tackles (134 solos), as he set the school career-record with 31.5 sacks, as his lost yardage figure (226) placed fifth in school history…His 43.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage rank sixth-best by a Yellow Jacket and the lost yardage figure was 255…Credited with six quarterback pressures, five pass deflections, one interception, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…His 12.5 sacks in 2013 rank fourth on the Tech season-record chart, while his 10 sacks as a junior placed eighth on that chart.