Otah is a Proud Panther

Otah is a Proud Panther

In three years Jeff Otah's whirl wind journey has taken him from a relatively unknown junior college standout to a staring spot on a rebuilding Pittsburgh Panther offensive line and now he is a first round NFL draft pick of the Carolina Panthers. Otah talked to the PantherDigest about his journey.

Jeff Otah's days playing for the University of Pittsburgh are over, but he's still a Panther.

The Carolina Panthers selected Otah in the first round of Saturday's NFL draft with the 19th overall pick.

"It feels good knowing who my teammates are and what coaches I'll be with," Otah said. "I never thought I'd be a first round pick. I thought I had the ability to make the NFL but never this high."

Pitt fans aren't surprised. In just two years Otah and Mike McGlynn helped restore the Panthers' reputation as a college program that produces great offensive linemen.

Despite not playing football during his junior season in high school, Otah stepped in for the Panthers in 2006 and started immediately out of Valley Forge Military Academy despite only playing on the offensive line for three years.

He started all 24 games he played at Pitt and graded 82 percent for blocking consistency during his career. Twenty-six of Otah's career "knockdown" blocks led to Panthers touchdowns.

Prior to becoming an offensive lineman at William Penn High in New Castle, Del., Otah excelled on the basketball court as a 325-pound center.

However, reports that he had never played football prior to his junior year in high school are not true, Otah says.

"I played on the defensive line, but I didn't play much and wasn't that good," Otah said. "My father actually told me to stay out during my junior year to get caught up on my academics."

In fact, despite obviously being worn down by numerous media interviews in the 24 hours following his selection by Carolina, he emphatically answered questions regarding his athletic future.

"I'm 35 credits short of graduation," said Otah, a social science major. "Of course [I want to graduate]. It's something to take care of in the future."

However, the 6-6, 340-pound left tackle also realizes he's just been hired for a very lucrative job, though he states he currently does not have any contract demands at this time.

"This is a full time job. I don't have any classes anymore. That's it. This is my job. I'm getting in [to Charlotte] on Thursday for mini-camp."

The Panthers took special interest in Otah on Pro Day and he even had lunch with head coach John Fox, where he learned that Fox was once an assistant coach of the Steelers under Chuck Noll.

"We had a short conversation about it," Otah said. "It's good to know he spent some time here [in Pittsburgh] and we were able to make a connection."

Other teams that showed interest in Otah were Chicago, Kansas City, San Diego, Detroit, Philadelphia, and the New York Jets.

However, he's hardly disappointed he was selected by Carolina.

"It would've been nice to stay home, but being a Panther is a good thing. I'm glad I'm here," he said, repeating his point about making a connection with the coaching staff.

Otah also mentioned his relationship with Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt.

"He did a good job treating me as a man and showing me how to make the right decisions," Otah said.

Otah says the proudest moment of his two years on the gridiron at Pitt was becoming an offensive captain last season because "it shows what guys thought about me as a leader."

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