AJ Green: Path to the NFL Draft
The “Path to the NFL Draft” is long and it is hard. It takes years of sacrifice, hard work, and dedication. It is tough not just for the players, but for the families that provide the love, support, and inspiration to pursue those dreams. With the NFL Draft a little under two months away, that work is about to pay off for the 256 players who hear their name called in Las Vegas. For Oklahoma State cornerback AJ Green, the dream is within touching distance.
“It would mean a lot. All the hard work and dedication that I put in to get to that moment. I feel like it would be a great opportunity for me and my family. This is bigger than me. I’m not just doing this for me. I’m doing it for my family. They’ve been supporting me through a long journey, and it would just mean a lot.”
The Path to the Draft begins in Texas
It’s been a football journey for AJ Green and his family that started in DeSoto, Texas over 20 years ago. From the moment he first held a football in his hand, he found a love for the game and it was fostered by the family that surrounded him.
“My love of football came from my family, just watching the game growing up. My family is a real big football family, so we watched a lot growing up. I started playing the game when I was three and I haven’t looked back since.”
One member of the family had a bigger influence on a young AJ Green than the others. His mother, Nissaa, instilled a love of the game but also the attributes that would come to define him on the field.
“The biggest influence of my football career would definitely be my mother. The competitive drive that she had. Also, she’s courageous and fearless, and she gave me that energy to go out there on the field. She grew up with six brothers and six sisters so I’m guessing that competitive nature came from there.”
Family, inspirations, and competitive spirit
It wasn’t just the immediate family that provided a competitive sporting environment for AJ Green. There is sporting success woven through his extended family too. That extended family has helped support and drive each other throughout this journey.
“I have a cousin who’s also going through the draft process right now. He played at University of North Texas. I have another cousin that’s at the University of Nevada right now. He plays corner also and is looking to have a big year. I have two other cousins, one of them just enrolled into Oklahoma State and he plays corner also. When we get back in the city, and everybody’s set, we go to our trainer and get to work together. We critique each other, give each other heads up. We’re very competitive, but we also love each other. Anything we do, we’re always competing. I feel like it brings the best out of us.”
Although all the cousins play cornerback now, position wasn’t a focus for a young AJ Green as he admired and was inspired by players in the NFL. His Dad, Alvin, was a Detroit Lions fan and he was a Dallas Cowboys fan and the two franchises combined to provide AJ with his early football icons.
“I really liked Megatron, Calvin Johnson. He was just so dominant on the field. And then, guys like Dez Bryant. Being from Texas, you know. He was very dominant also.”
How does he think they’d get on going one on one against him as he enters the NFL Draft as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation?
“I mean, that’s something that we’d definitely have to get set up!”
How about his namesake from the Cincinnati Bengals?
“Definitely A.J. Green…”
AJ Green shines at DeSoto High School
His path to the NFL Draft began in earnest at High School. AJ Green played football at Desoto High School, one of the powerhouses of Texas High School football. They have a rich history of sending players to the NFL and this year have several prospects in the NFL Draft. It was his time there that built the foundations of his football career.
“There are a lot of great athletes that come through there. It’s all about competing and making each other better, every day. We had a great coaching staff while I was there. They just let us compete and they just let us be ourselves. I feel like that’s when we were most comfortable and when we had the most success. Playing high school football in Texas, you know you’re going to play against the best, week in and week out. You play against so many different kids that go on to do great things. It’s top notch.”
AJ Green had plenty of personal success at DeSoto High School. He was voted to the First Team All-District as a sophomore and a senior. As a senior he also received an All-Honourable All-State nod and was voted a team MVP. The success on the field led to a large amount of interest to continue his football career at the college level. It was at this point that Nissaa’s influence came in the form of some motherly advice.
Some motherly advice on dictating your future
“She said: “don’t let anybody dictate your future. You’re the only one that can dictate your future.” This was around the time when I was receiving a lot of scholarship offers. People were saying maybe you should go here, maybe you should go there. They don’t do this well, or they don’t do that well. I just kinda took it upon myself to dictate my own future. At the end of the day, I’m the only one that can control my future and I’m the one that has to live with the decision.”
There were a lot of offers for AJ Green coming out of DeSoto. According to 247 Sports, he had the opportunity to play across the nation with offers from Wisconsin, Oregon State, Missouri, Cal, and Louisville to name just a few. True to his word, he dictated his own future and chose Oklahoma State.
“I had a good relationship with the cornerback coach, Coach Tim Duffie. We had a few alumni that were there at the time from DeSoto, who went there and had pretty good success. I took a couple of visits up there. Another guy in my class who I was very close to, he was going to Oklahoma State too, so I thought it was a good fit.”
AJ Green and the Oklahoma State Cowboys
It certainly proved to be a great fit between AJ Green and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. During their four years together, the Cowboys never had a losing season and won three of their four bowl games. Since starting in his freshman season, an accomplishment he looks back on as one of the highlights of his time there, AJ Green has racked up six interceptions, 21 pass break ups, and two forced fumbles. He was honoured by opposition coaches in 2018 with a Second Team All-Big 12 nod in 2018 and the same award from the Associated Press for his senior year.
Despite the statistics and accolades on the field, it’s something more personal that he takes away from his time at Oklahoma State. It’s things like the Vernon Grant Award which is awarded for leadership, spirit, and enthusiasm, and being named a team captain that defines his time there.
“Those things mean a lot when you achieve things like that. When you’re voted as a captain by your team it just shows that everything you do doesn’t go unnoticed. I’m most proud of impacting the other people that were there, just building relationships with people. I know that I’m blessed to be in the position I am. Just going through there, leaving my mark and helping others succeed.”
AJ Green is a baller
Not only did AJ Green leave his mark on the Oklahoma State Cowboys, he’s left his mark on some of the best wide receiver talent that college football has to offer. One such player that he’s faced with regularity in the BIG 12 is Oklahoma Sooners receiver, CeeDee Lamb. Lamb goes into the NFL Draft process as some analysts WR1, yet AJ Green held him to just 36 yards on 4 catches in their final “Bedlam” rivalry game.
“I think that should impact my value. When somebody turns the tape on and they look at all the receivers that I went against, who’ve had good success in the past, and for the most part I shut them down. I hope that when they put on the tape they realise, this guy AJ Green is a baller.”
NFL Draft stock soars at the Senior Bowl
Jim Nagy and the crew at the Reece’s Senior Bowl realised, and AJ Green continued his journey to the NFL at the premier All-Star College Football game. After a standout week in practice, and an equally impressive performance in the game itself, his NFL Draft stock is on the rise.
“The Senior Bowl was a great week. I feel like I went there and maximised my opportunity, showed that I belong, competed with the best. I feel like I showed that I can adjust, that I can learn things quickly, pick up things on the fly, that I have the ability to play man or zone, fluid in my movements, things like that. When you go to places like that, and work out with other prospects, you pick up things here and there. It’s great for me to learn from other prospects and other coaches.”
Building relationships at the NFL Combine
As a result of his success at Oklahoma State and at the Senior Bowl, AJ Green was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, hitting the field with the rest of the defensive backs last Sunday. Although much has been made of the switch to prime time this year, he didn’t feel it impacted his performance, and was happy with the work he put in during his time there.
“The combine is like no other. I felt I did pretty good in the skill drills, did good in the bench and things like that. I felt like it was a pretty good opportunity for me.”
Aside from the on-field work, the off-field meetings with NFL teams is just as much a part of the week in Indianapolis and he met with several teams whilst he was there.
“I spoke to the Falcons, the Dolphins, the Jets, the Cardinals, I spoke to a few teams. You never know with the draft, people trading up and things like that, but I felt like I built a relationship with some of the coaches.”
Building relationships and getting to know the person behind the football player is all a part of the process. At the NFL Combine that usually takes the form of some interesting questioning thrown into the interview. It was no different for AJ Green.
“A coach asked me: “If I punched you in the face right now, what would you do?!” I thought that was pretty weird, it caught me off guard. I was like, we’ll have to see.”
AJ Green: Competitor. Passionate. Determined
With the Oklahoma State pro day rapidly approaching on March 10th, AJ Green has one last chance to impress in front of all 32 NFL teams. They’ve all seen his tape. They’ve had the opportunity to dig below the football player and find out about the person underneath. As he prepares for the NFL dream to come true for him, and his family, what does he want the NFL to know about AJ Green?
“I’m a competitor, passionate, and determined. And there’s no other corner out there better than me.”
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.
Feature Image Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Huge thanks to A.J. Green for taking the time to speaks to us. Also to Alexis Ramos and Rebecca Otto at Wasserman who helped connect us.