Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo won the Rotary Lombardi Award on Wednesday night, the first Longhorn to take home the trophy in 24 years.
HOUSTON — Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo won the Rotary Lombardi Award on Wednesday night, the first Longhorn to take home the trophy in 24 years.
Orakpo is the first Houston native to win the Lombardi, awarded by the city's Rotary Club to the nation's top college lineman or linebacker. He's the third Texas player to win it, and the first since offensive tackle Tony Degrate in 1984. Texas defensive tackle Kenneth Sims won it in 1981.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Orakpo already won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded by the Charlotte Touchdown Club to the nation's top defensive player, and was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year. Orakpo finished the regular season with 10.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.
Orakpo beat out Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, Southern Cal linebacker Rey Maualuga and Alabama offensive lineman Andre Smith. At a banquet before the announcement, the other finalists practically conceded the award to Orakpo, who played at nearby Lamar High School.
"They've been saying, 'Give the award to 'Rak' already,'" Orakpo said. "It's just fun to be out here. I started my career here in Houston and for a major collegiate award to be presented in Houston, it's a 1-2 combo. You can't beat that."
The Longhorns (11-1) face the Buckeyes (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5, but Orakpo said he's still upset that Texas won't get to play for the national championship three days later. The Longhorns beat Oklahoma earlier in the season, but the Sooners will face Florida for the title because they finished ahead of Texas in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
"It was very unfortunate, but we have to move on," Orakpo said.
Maualuga can relate. An early loss to Oregon State ruined Southern Cal's championship hopes and the Trojans (11-1) will play Penn State (11-1) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
"We can't show how good we are when we can't play teams like Florida or Alabama or Texas," said Maualuga, the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year. "Hopefully, down the line, there's a playoff system. As for now, we're just happy we get to play in the Rose Bowl."
The 6-4, 330-pound Smith, the only junior among the Lombardi finalists, told Orakpo that he thought the Longhorns earned the right to play in the BCS championship. The Crimson Tide (12-1) will face Utah (12-0) in the Sugar Bowl after losing to the Gators in Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship.
"If we would've handled our business like we were supposed to, we wouldn't have put ourselves in that situation," Smith said. "We just have to live and learn with our mistakes and capitalize the next time."
Orakpo is the first player from the Big 12 to win the Lombardi since Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris in 2003. A player from the SEC or Big Ten had won the last four.
The Lombardi Award was initiated by Houston's Rotary Club in 1970. The award originated shortly after its Hall of Fame namesake — Vince Lombardi — died of cancer.
About 500 college coaches, former finalists and media members voted for the annual award. The Rotary Club doesn't release a breakdown of the votes.
Orakpo said about half a dozen family members attended Wednesday night's announcement. His parents were in Nigeria on business, he said.
Also Wednesday, Orakpo won the Ted Hendricks Award, honoring the nation's top defensive end. He's also a finalist for the Lott Trophy, which honors the nation's top defensive IMPACT player by considering athletic performance and personal character.