CSU linebacker eager to shed comparisons to big brother Brian Orakpo, establish own identity

Colorado State freshman linebacker Mike Orakpo wants to be just like his famous older brother.

And, yet, nothing like him.

Given his last name, the comparisons to former University of Texas standout Brian Orakpo, now a budding star linebacker with the Washington Redskins, are inevitable.

But Mike Orakpo hopes to be judged on his own merits, gauged on his own ability. That's why he went to a different high school than his older sibling and now attends a different college, in a different conference, despite some Big 12 interest.

Nothing against the Orakpo name — he cherishes the legacy and is quite close with his brother — but Mike Orakpo wants to be assessed not by the name on his back but by his play on the field.

"I'm really not worried about trying to fill his shoes," Mike Orakpo said. "I'm just trying to get into my own shoes."

His quick first step and playmaking ability remind many of none other than Brian Orakpo, a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft.

It's hardly a coincidence. Mike Orakpo does study film of his older sibling, looking for possible moves he can mimic.

And yet, as much as he's trying to do what his brother did, he's trying just as hard to carve out his own identity.

"I am" my own guy, Mike Orakpo said. "And I feel I will continue to establish my own name, so people can know my talents and what I can do as far as being Mike Orakpo."

His brother respects that, admires it actually. Mike Orakpo has never wanted anything handed to him, never taken the easy route.

For that, Brian Orakpo feels like he played an important part. All those impromptu wrestling matches, where he "whipped" his little brother, made Mike Orakpo tougher.

Those video-game contests, where big brother wouldn't back down, made him more determined.

Those were simple lessons in life, to be applied to the football field.

"I never take it easy on him. That's how he got that competitive nature," said Brian Orakpo, a Pro Bowler last season after an 11-sack rookie campaign. "He wants to do his own thing, that's one thing I respect him for. He wanted to make a name for himself, and he's doing well right now."

Brian Orakpo went to Lamar High School in Houston, becoming a top-notch defensive end before embarking on a stellar career with the Longhorns.

He paved the way for his younger brother to follow a similar path.

Yet Mike Orakpo flipped the script, attending Westbury High School in Houston, where he saw time at safety.

"I didn't want it to be like I was getting things because of him," explained the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Mike Orakpo, who's three inches shorter and nearly 50 pounds lighter than his brother. "I wanted them to take me for being me, what they saw on film, rather than being someone else's little brother. That's why I took a different route."

After a solid prep career, Mike Orakpo was recruited by schools such as Oklahoma State, Houston and Boise State. But Colorado State appealed to him, in part because he appreciated the way coach Steve Fairchild wanted him for his skills, not his lineage.

Now, Mike Orakpo doesn't want to wait to make his own mark.

Instead of possibly a redshirt season, he's pushing hard for playing time. He's being used in 3-4 packages when the Rams employ four linebackers. His quickness will come in handy in a conference where a majority of the teams use a spread offense.

Mike Orakpo also may see action on special teams when Colorado State opens the season Sept. 4 against Colorado at Invesco Field in Denver.

"I'm coming in levelheaded," said Orakpo, who enrolled at CSU in January and went through spring drills as a safety before relocating to linebacker. "I'm coming in like any other freshman would — try to make an impact on the team as much as I can."

He chats with his brother on a regular basis, picking up pointers and receiving little nuggets of advice just like he always has.

The best one?

"He told me to play every play like it's your last," Mike Orakpo said. "You can never go wrong with that."

As for his last name trailing him, that simply can't be helped. He's approached all the time by people asking him if he's related to Brian Orakpo.

Not that he minds. He's very proud of his brother, the legacy he has established.

But Mike Orakpo is attempting to write his own chapter, in his own way, of course.


AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Ashburn, Va., contributed.