Chris Orr: Path to the NFL Draft
The phrase “Football is Family” is interwoven into the very fabric of the National Football League. As we head towards the 2020 NFL Draft, no other prospect hoping to hear their name called in Las Vegas embodies the mantra more than former Wisconsin linebacker Chris Orr.
“For me, there is literally not a day of my life that I don’t remember being involved in football somehow, someway. My earliest memories of football were watching my brothers play when I was a little toddler running around on the sideline while my Dad was coaching them. Me and my brothers found tapes of my Dad playing football and it made us that much more hungry.”
Football is Family
The tapes of Terry Orr were no regular games of football. As a tight end for the Washington Redskins between 1986 and 1993, Terry helped the Redskins to two Vince Lombardi trophies as the Super Bowl Champions.
“When I was younger, I didn’t know how special it was. The older I got the more I realised that, some people play for 12 years and never even get to the Super Bowl so for him to win two, that’s what made me realise that man, this is something truly special. I was just fascinated with the rings, and I was like I gotta get myself one of those someday.”
Terry and Rita had four boys. As the sons of a two-time Super Bowl Champion it was a reasonable assumption that they would follow in the family business.
“He never forced football on us. It was never like oh you’re going to do this, this is what you have to do. But once we decided we wanted to play football he told us that we’re gonna be the hardest workers, you’re going to respect the game, play the game of football the right way.”
The Orr Boys
One by one they carved out a football story of their own. Nick played safety at TCU. Terrance was a defensive back at Texas State. Zach was a linebacker at North Texas, before having an NFL Pro Bowl career with the Baltimore Ravens cut short by injury. As the youngest, Chris Orr was the last to embark on his football journey.
“I felt the most pressure out of everybody. All the other three were pretty good at football, and they all seemed to one up each other, which was the craziest thing. I was always told by adults as a kid that I wasn’t going to be anything like my brothers, I wasn’t going to measure up to the things that they accomplished. That always drove me to work harder and helped foster my personality. Not being afraid of anything. Wanting to challenge myself. Being courageous.”
When Chris Orr made it to the high school level, playing for the DeSoto High School Jets, he transitioned from playing safety to linebacker. It was another family tie into football. Zach had played the position during his time at DeSoto and became one of his brother’s early role models at the position.
“Definitely my brother, number 1. A lot of my game comes from him. I try to mix other people in with him as well. Mike Singletary was one of my favourite linebackers growing up. When I got number 50 at Wisconsin, I was so excited. Chris Borland was someone that I looked up to. I loved his game. Just how tenacious he played, you could tell he played with his heart on fire. Devin Bush, he’s younger than me but I definitely take some of his game. Levonte David. Lot of people.”
Friday Night Lights
There is a passion for high school football in the state of Texas unlike anywhere else. The adoration and celebrity status that fans place on players is as huge as the stadiums that play host to the biggest games. It’s an experience that is often difficult to explain, and certainly to appreciate.
“It was amazing. It was everything that everyone thinks it is. If you’re not from Texas, you don’t really get to experience it. I try and tell everybody, at some point in your life, if you love football, you need to experience a Texas High School football game, a playoff game, or a State Championship Game. I used to square off in high school against Kyler Murray, three or four years in a row. Playing in Cowboys stadium, in front of 67,000 people, the transition from high school to college as far as crowd noise, playing in big stadiums, it was easy for me. You’re famous in your town, in the metroplex, in the Dallas area. People know who you are, if you play well enough.”
Chris Orr: MVP
Chris Orr certainly played well enough for DeSoto to become well known. He was named first team All-District in his junior and senior season. In those two years he amassed 374 tackles, 13 forced fumbles, and three defensive touchdowns. He was named team MVP and was the team captain in his senior year, two achievements that provoke an emotional response.
“Oh man, it meant everything to me. Honestly at our banquet I almost shed a tear when they announced me as one of the team MVPs. That was the most fun I ever had playing football. More so from the experience I was able to gain. I was placed in a leadership position and it showed me how much trust that my teammates had in me. That meant the world to me that they trusted me so much to treat me as a leader of the team. It was truly special for them to give me that.”
In the transition from high school to college, Chris Orr began to forge his separate football path from the one well worn by his father and brothers before him. The other four Orr boys, Terry included, had played football in the state of Texas. Chris had the opportunity to follow in Zach’s footsteps and received an offer to play football at the University of North Texas.
“That was one of the best college environments that I’ve been around even to this day. I loved being in North Texas, but I couldn’t go there because it was just too fresh after he left. I wanted to be known as Chris Orr instead of Zach Orr’s little brother. He just got inducted into the Hall of Fame there, so that was definitely out of the question.”
The 3* recruit out of DeSoto looked further afield to continue his football journey.
“Honestly, to get one scholarship offer, you’re living the dream. But I wasn’t really sought after too much. I had people tell me I wasn’t a BIG 10 linebacker, other schools tell me I wasn’t a BIG 10 linebacker. I had people basically telling me I was too small. So, I owned up to that and I was like, I’m gonna go to Wisconsin.”
“When I went up there to visit, I loved Madison from the jump. It was a great institution. I knew Coach Chryst wasn’t going to go anywhere because you could tell that he truly had his dream job. So, I wound up going to Wisconsin, playing in the most physical conference in the nation, and everything worked out for the better. Not a lot of people saw that for me!”
From instant impact to agony for Chris Orr
For a player that had been told he wasn’t a BIG 10 linebacker, that he was too small to play the position, Chris Orr made an immediate impact as a freshman at Wisconsin. He started six games, tallied 46 tackles, had two tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. His future at Wisconsin appeared to be bright.
On September 3rd 2016, the Lambeau Field College Classic saw Wisconsin take on LSU. It was the opening game of Chris Orr’s sophomore season. On the opening play of his game, Orr suffered a season ending ACL tear.
“In that moment, honestly, I was more hurt that I couldn’t finish the game. I was crying when they told me I was out for the rest of the game. I didn’t even know I’d torn my ACL and was just sad and hurt that I couldn’t finish that game. The next day I found out that I tore my ACL and I cried again coz I knew I’d miss the rest of the season.”
“I just tried to find a way to stay plugged in. Never missed a meeting. I was meeting extra with my linebacker coach and defensive co-ordinator. I was charting plays on game days, had a headset on. It honestly did so much for the way I thought of football, it honestly helped me so much than probably playing that season would have.
Despite returning to full fitness in 2017 and recording his first career pick six and forced fumbles, it wasn’t until his senior season that Chris Orr has realised his full potential at Wisconsin
Leading the Badger defense to a historical start in 2019
2019 has been a true breakout season. He played in every game. He was second on the team in total tackles (78), tackles for loss (14), and sacks (11.5) as well as logging 5 pass break ups, 1 fumble recovery and 2 forced fumbles.
“It was great, it was a lot of fun. I was just playing free, and I think being in a leadership position made me wanna say, forget it, I’m gonna go make this play. I knew when times were getting tough, times were getting rough, being a leader people look at you to make a play. If you want to be a great leader, you’re going to make that play for your team and for your defense. That motivation helped me out a lot. Each week I felt like I was getting better and better. It was great.”
2019 saw some remarkable highs, including being a part of a Wisconsin defense that broke new ground for the program.
“We got our fourth shut out of the year that game [against Michigan State]. It was the most that we’d had as a team since, I want to say the 1920’s or 1940’s. It was a great feeling to basically etch our name in Wisconsin history as one of the best defenses of all time. That was fun.”
A painful way to say goodbye
His time as a Badger came to an end, unfortunately, with back to back defeats in the BIG 10 Championship Game and then in the Rose Bowl. It was made more heart breaking by the nature of the defeat, having held the lead in both games.
“Oh man, that was the worst pain ever. I’ve never been a BIG 10 champion so to have that opportunity to be that close, that hurt a lot. I think the Oregon one hurt a little more because it’s your last game, last time wearing the W, I felt like that when they trust you in a leadership position you should be making more plays, somehow. You should be the one to make the last play to help get us back in a position to win the game, but it doesn’t always work out like that. Those two were the worst feelings I ever had, worse than when I tore my ACL, to be honest.”
Chris Orr’s final game for Wisconsin was in the Rose Bowl, one of the most prestigious stadiums in America. He’s played in Lambeau Field, AT&T Stadium, and Yankee Stadium for the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl. However, when it comes to atmosphere there was truly no place like home.
“Man, it’s electric. Our fans are the best in the nation. They’re the loudest. They’re doing the chants back and forth to each other. Jump Around is the best college football tradition ever. The stadium literally shakes. We get a burst of energy when Jump Around comes on. There’s nothing like playing at Camp Randall.”
NFL Combine snub for Chris Orr
The next time Chris Orr takes to the field in Madison, it will be at the Wisconsin Badgers Pro Day. It’s the next opportunity to impress NFL front offices on his path to the NFL Draft. When the NFL Combine invites went out earlier this week, Chris Orr wasn’t on the list.
“It definitely adds extra motivation to me, for sure. Without a doubt. I was Second Team All-BIG 10, I finished like, top 10 in the nation in sacks as an off the ball linebacker. I kinda feel like they just spit in my face, and basically said “we don’t care what you did, we’re not inviting you”. It honestly did make me mad, made me feel disrespected down to my core. I feel like I put the work in and deserve to be there. It’s not the end of the world but it definitely added fuel to my fire.”
Training is going well for his pro day, and although he doesn’t tie himself down to a specific goal in the 40 yard dash, he tells me that he believes a late 4.40 is well within his capability. That would have put him somewhere between Devin Bush and Blake Cashman at the 2019 NFL Combine. With such obvious athletic ability, NFL teams will want to go back and look at the tape. What will they find when they get there?
The tale of the tape
“I can rush the passer. I’m pretty good in the run game and I’m solid in coverage. I try and bring some type of physical presence every play. Whether that’s a big hit, or how I get off of blocks, or even some of those hits that don’t look too big but they definitely hard. The thing that best describes my game is my football intelligence, my football instincts. Sometimes you just have a feeling of where the ball is going to be, a feeling of where the ball is going to go. You study the game so much that you know exactly what’s coming.”
Reps for Rescue
Not only will Chris Orr be putting on a show for the 32 NFL teams at his pro day, he’ll be helping to raise money whilst challenging misconceptions about a subject close to his heart.
“I’ve had some dogs during my time up in Wisconsin. It honestly helped me out a lot when I was down with my injuries. When you’re battling through the ups and downs of the season, or even your time being so far away from home, they helped me so much that I felt like I could do more for these animals. They’re misrepresented in the media. People hear the word pit bull and they think that they’re vicious killers. People don’t know that the pit bull was actually known as the “nanny breed”, because people kept these dogs around their babies to protect them, way back in the day. I want to do as much as I can to help get this misconception out of the way, because they’ve helped me so much with my mental health, my energy.”
The dream is close to becoming reality for Chris Orr
Energy. Fire. Leadership. Versatility. Physicality. Intelligence.
All words that help define Chris Orr.
They’re all born from a hunger that has raged since he was a small boy watching tape of his father playing football, and admiration of those rings that were the ultimate symbol of football success.
For every prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft, the next step is a dream.
For Chris Orr, his football family has already taught him that dream can be a reality.
“I think the best thing is that, you know that this dream of playing professional football is realistic. For us, having our Dad do it, we know that this a real goal, a real dream that you can actually live out.”
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND SATURDAY BLITZ. 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: USA TODAY Sports
Huge thanks go out to Chris Orr for taking the time to speak to us. Also, to Case Donahue at Team IFA for connecting us.