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The Freak: Owen Pappoe Seeks To Turn Athletic Gifts Into Football Success

Rookie linebacker plans to be NFL strength coach after playing career

Rookie linebacker Owen Pappoe walks out to a recent practice.
Rookie linebacker Owen Pappoe walks out to a recent practice.

Owen Pappoe has been The Freak for a long time.

Much longer than his Twitter account, the handle of which is @TheFreak. Longer than his career at Auburn, from where the Cardinals plucked the linebacker as one of their fifth-round picks in April's draft. Certainly long before he grew into 6-foot, 228-pound athletic whirlwind who ran a 4.39 40 and benched 225 pounds 29 times.

Pappoe got the nickname from his defensive coordinator after the last game of his first season playing football – in middle school.

"It kind of took a life of its own as the years went by," Pappoe said.

The moniker was a nod to former Titans and Eagles star edge rusher Javon Kearse, who was the original Freak. But as Pappoe grew up, the nickname couldn't have fit any better.

Not only was Pappoe a talented football player, he long has had a passion for being in shape. He got his degree in exercise science, and his plan after his NFL playing career is over is to stay in the NFL as a strength and conditioning coach.

"Learning how to take care of your body has always interested me," Pappoe said. "I was always a guy even back in high school. You've got to be eating right, cut out junk food, take weight training serious, stretch and all that. It's a huge part not only of the game but in life, man."

Pappoe has the right body and the right attitude. Now he has to find where he has the right fit on the field.

Even with his athletic talent, he was still a fifth-round pick. It didn't faze him, after his agent told him he could go anywhere from the third- to fifth-round – "It's a blessing to be drafted, whether you are the No. 1 pick or Mr. Irrelevant" – but it still leaves a question on the kind of mark he can leave.

Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon understands the desire to reconcile Pappoe's freakish athleticism with his draft spot, but he isn't going to complain.

"Everyone has a different flavor of what they like, and I was surprised where we got him, honestly," Gannon said, noting that the linebacking criteria he and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis seek begins with being able to play in space.

"He fits the description of what we are looking for."

Pappoe just wants to learn the inside linebacker role with Rallis and turn into what he can. He figures to have a spot on special teams, and maybe grow into something bigger.

Out of all his physical gifts, he'll admit he is impressed with his speed the most, noting his Combine time but adding "I feel like people still haven't see how truly fast I am."

Pappoe smiled and relayed a story about watching video of a recent offseason practice when he took a "crazy line" to the backfield, sidestepped an offensive lineman and exploded into the backfield to make a "play" (such that it can be in the non-contact world of June work.)

"It doesn't feel like I move that fast," said The Freak. "But I see the tape and I'm like, 'Damn. That's crazy.'"

Images of the Adaptive Football Camp event hosted by the Arizona Cardinals in partnership with Mikey's League at the Dignity Health Training Complex

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