Pace, Orlando 1975–
Orlando Pace 1975–
Professional football player
Although playing a position that is rarely in the limelight, Orlando Pace has become a legend in his sport by becoming one of the most dominating offensive tackles in football history. As a player at Ohio State University, he was referred to by Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated as” the best college player in the country.” He was also one of the few college linemen under consideration for the Heisman Trophy, collegiate football’s highest honor. When Pace was selected first in the 1997 National Football League (NFL) draft, he became only the fourth offensive tackle in the draft’s 62-year history to be chosen number one. As Ohio State football coach John Cooper stated in the Ohio State University Football site on the World Wide Web,” In all my years of coaching, I have never been around a player who played his position any better than Orlando Pace.”
Pace’s unusual combination of huge size (6’7”, 320 pounds), quickness, and agility have made him a devastating blocker known for opening huge holes for running backs. Former Ohio State tailback Eddie George remarked in Sports Illustrated about the benefits of having Pace block for him,” When situations were crucial we always ran to his side. Every time I ran behind him was a guaranteed five yards, because he’d push his man that far backward. He’s the best I’ve ever seen.” Because of his steamrolling efficiency, Pace played a major role in making Ohio State a contender for the national championship.
Orlando Pace and his sister Katrina were raised by their mother, Joyce, and maternal grandmother, Idella, in the northern Ohio town of Sandusky. Both Pace’s mother and grandmother worked at a plant that produced pencils, and his mother also sometimes took second jobs as a hotel maid and in fast-food restaurants to support her family. By the fifth grade Pace was playing on local football teams, and because of his size he was used primarily as an offensive lineman.” I didn’t like it,” he told the Sporting News.” Nobody really wants to play in the offensive line. I guess fat guys get to. I wanted to be either a running back or quarterback. There was no glamour in the offensive line. Still isn’t.”
The future superstar made a significant impression on the Sandusky High School coach Larry Cook, who first
At a Glance…
Born November 4, 1975, in Sandusky, OH. Education: Ohio State University.
Career: Starred in football and basketball in high school, early 1990s; became starting left tackle on Ohio State University football team as freshman, 1994; played on both offensive and defensive lines, 1994-96; helped lead the Ohio State football team to a number-two national ranking, 1996; was fourth in balloting for Heisman Trophy, 1996; became first pick in National Football League (NFL) draft, 1997; signed most lucrative rookie contract in NFL history, with St. Louis Rams, 1997.
Awards and honors: First-Team High School All-American, Parade, USA Today, 1993; Big Ten Conference Freshman Player of the Year, 1994; Lombardi Award (for best college lineman), 1995, 1996; Big Ten Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year, 1995, 1996; All-America Team, 1995, 1996; All-Big Ten Conference First team, 1995, 1996; Outland Trophy (for best college interior lineman), 1996; Big Ten Conference Player of the Year, 1996; Offensive Player of the Year, Football News, 1996; Offensive Player of the Year, Big Ten Conference, 1996; Silver Football Award (for Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten Conference), Chicago Tribune, 1996; Finalist, Maxwell Award, 1996; Most Valuable Player, Ohio State University, 1996.
Addresses: Professional—c/o St. Louis Rams, 100 North Broadway, St. Louis, MO 63102.
saw Pace play when he was in eighth grade.” He was stunned by Pace’s balance, agility, and body control,” wrote Douglas S. Looney of Cook’s assessment in the Sporting News. After being selected first-team high school All-American by Parade and USA Today, he was barraged by recruiters from major colleges. Pace chose to attend Ohio State because, as he told the Sporting News, “I knew that Ohio State was in desperate need of an offensive lineman and I wanted to play early at a big school.”
It didn’t take Pace long to impress his coaches at Ohio State. He was named to the starting lineup at left tackle on the first day of double-session practices, a remarkable event for a freshman and a very rare occurrence at Ohio State. He quickly fulfilled the expectations of his coaches and was named Freshman Player of the Year in the Big Ten athletic conference. Because of his versatility, Pace was often called upon to play on the defensive line when opponents were close to the goal line and also became part of the field-goal blocking unit on defense.
In his sophomore year at Ohio State, Pace continued to improve dramatically. During the first eleven games of the season, he helped Ohio State average 499 yards of offense per game and was cited as Lineman of the Week seven times. Much of the credit for Ohio State’s highest-ever total of 475 points scored for the year also rested on Pace’s massive shoulders. He also became the first sophomore to win the Lombardi Award, which is awarded to the nation’s best college lineman. Pace’s performance on the gridiron continued to impress all who saw him play.” The guy is unbelievable,” said Jim Lachey, a former player who covered Pace’s college games for a radio station in Columbus, Ohio, according to Sports Illustrated.” I mean, he’s got the whole package: great feet, great hands, long arms. I try to tell people that you just don’t see guys who are this big and this good.”
Although Pace had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder after his second collegiate season, his skills were not diminished. As a junior he tallied up an astonishing number of so-called” pancake blocks,” or blocks that involved knocking the defender to the ground and onto his back. During his sophomore and junior years, Pace’s superior blocking talents prevented Ohio State quarterbacks from being tackled behind the line of scrimmage. He also became well known for his ability to block downfield as a play developed, a rare accomplishment for someone weighing well over 300 pounds.
Following his junior year, Pace considered a move into the professional ranks.” Once you get to a level where you’re dominant and there’s no other level for you to go to, you have to go there,” commented Pace about his professional aspirations to Sports Illustrated. In 1996, Pace became the first two-time winner of the Lombardi Award and was named Big Ten Conference Player of the Year for 1996. Pace also played a key role in Ohio State’s number two ranking in the college polls and the team’s victory over Arizona State in the Rose Bowl. He also placed fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Pace decided to make himself available for the pro draft following his junior year. He was” regarded by many as the finest offensive line prospect ever,” according to Jeff Snook in the Sporting News. He also became the number-one draft pick. After the New York Jets traded their rights to the first pick, Pace was signed by the St. Louis Rams. He soon became involved in a salary dispute with the Rams and turned down a seven-year, $23.1 million contract because it didn’t include a signing bonus. Pace’s agents, Kevin and Carl Poston, then landed the young tackle the richest contract for a rookie in NFL history—a $25.6 million package for seven years that included a $6.3 million signing bonus.
Because of his holdout from training camp, Pace’s first season in the pros got off to a late start. However, his much-heralded debut against the Oakland Raiders proved that he belonged in the NFL. Pace played the entire game and allowed no quarterback sacks.” Big dude, man,” noted Oakland defensive end Lance Johnstone, who was on the receiving end of most of Pace’s blocks in the game, in Sports Illustrated.” I couldn’t bull rush him, but he’s got such quick feet I couldn’t get around him either.”
In 1998, Pace was eager to begin his second season in the NFL. After reporting overweight and over a month late to training camp in 1997, Pace arrived in camp on time and weighed 308 pounds, the lightest he had been since his freshman year in high school according to Sports Illustrated. Although he weighed less than he did during the 1997 season, Pace displayed his trademark strength and agility in 1998. As Rams coach Dick Vermeil told Sports Illustrated about Pace,” If he isn’t the best tackle in football in two years, I’ll be totally shocked.”
Boston Globe, December 31, 1996, p. C3.
Jet, December 23, 1996, p. 50; May 5, 1997, p. 57; September 8, 1997, p. 51.
Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1996, p. C1.
New York Times, October 28, 1996, p. C9.
Sporting News, August 19, 1996, p. S8.
Sports Illustrated, October 7, 1996, p. 28; December 16, 1996; October 6, 1997, p. 115; September 21, 1998.
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