The reaction was so strong, Eric Striker set his cell phone face down to ignore everything. Emails. Texts. Calls. Vile Snapchat responses. The Oklahoma linebacker couldn’t keep up with the backlash last spring.
Striker had just taken a loud stand against racism.
When a video emerged of a campus fraternity celebrating that it’d never accept African-Americans, Striker went on a profanity-laced, 18-second Snapchat tirade and then led team-wide protests across campus. Enough was enough. He made himself the face of a movement, sick of being celebrated on Saturdays and marginalized during the week. Oh, he fully expected some anger.
“I got some nasty messages,” Striker said. “Nasty, man. I got videos actually. Straight up, dudes telling me stuff.”
Threats? The N-word? “Yeah, we’re talking that."
But he had to act.
That Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter was soon shut down, race relations on campus improved and Oklahoma bonded as a team.
No doubt, Eric Striker is the Most Interesting Linebacker in the draft whether it’s vehemently pushing back against racism, his role as a “Magic Man” on the field or his take on what makes an effective president, leader. Hint, hint, his take on Donald J. Trump may surprise you.
In a league where linebackers must be versatile — must rush, cover, stop the run, call audibles, be a coach on the field — Striker is as versatile as it gets. The 5-foot-11, 227-pounder who projects as a mid-rounder had 46.5 tackles for loss, 23 sacks and broke up 12 passes in three years starting. He's a truly unique force on and off the field.
When everyone else zigs, Striker zags.
The OU incident was the perfect storm.
“I’m a leader,” Striker said. “And the way I became a leader is natural. I had my teammates behind me the whole time. So I was never afraid to take a stand because I knew I had guys behind me. Any time you’re staring in the face of racism and you have a voice you want to use, then put something out there. I thought that we as a football team could take a stand.
“We have relationships with these fraternities and they act like they love us but if they’re going to be phony like that, we need to address some things. That’s just not right.”
Once Striker sifted through his cell phone in full, he realized most of the responses were... positive. Suddenly, he was hearing from students at other schools. He received emails from people in France, in Germany. It's absolutely no excuse, he assures, but Striker understood all along that many students on campus hailed from predominantly white towns.
His hope was to wake everyone up. He did.
On the field, the buoyant Striker doesn’t fit a cookie-cutter mold either. Coaches moved him all over their defense — from rushing off the edge, to a “stacked” outside linebacker position, to middle linebacker to dropping as a pseduo safety.
“We had this ‘magic’ formation,” explained Striker, who said he met with Buffalo Bills linebackers coach Bobby April III at the NFL scouting combine. “I was like the ‘Magic Man.’ I just roamed around and they let me be free. And the only reason I was able to do that is I gained the confidence of Coach (Bob) Stoops. I was old enough, disciplined enough and mature enough to do it. So that’s where I got my freedom.”
Which was a lot to handle mentally. His assignments varied play to play.
Quarterbacks often tried to capitalize on his overzealous nature, too. They’d clap twice before “Hut," for example, instead of once to draw Striker offsides. Such attention to detail, he says, drives his game. And when told how complicated Rex Ryan's defense can get in Buffalo, Striker pointed to the complex spread offenses in the Big 12. Funky formations were the norm, forcing him to constantly adjust a split-second before the snap.
Oh, Striker gets that he’s undersized. Maybe the pro game overwhelms him physically.
General Manager Doug Whaley made it clear this week the modern-day linebacker must be light on his feet.
“Those bigger body guys aren’t going to be as heavily coveted in our division just because you are going to be in nickel and dime a lot,” Whaley said. “You are going to play 70 percent of the time in nickel, so you need a guy that is quick.”
You also need a guy who is assertive. That's Striker. To understand what type of leader he is, understand his take on U.S. Presidents.
He’s mesmerized by how Franklin D. Roosevelt (a Democrat), Ronald Reagan (a Republican) and, yes, Trump inspire.
“Regardless of whatever sect you’re from, religion, anything, human beings period follow other peoples’ personalities,” Striker said. “FDR and Reagan, it wasn’t so much political with them. It’s kind of like a player’s coach or a professor with students.
“Obviously you have to have an agenda, right? Education, immigration, welfare, you have to address those things. But when you talk about having a way with the people, I read a book where a guy said Ronald Reagan became president because he could tell a joke. He got in front of a crowd and any speech he had he’d tell a joke. You kind of fall in love with that.
“So that’s what I’m saying with Trump — he kind of has a way with the people. If you win the people over, if you have a way with the people, you can speak to people, they love you and you’re very charismatic, that helps.”
Striker’s mind traces back to his own childhood in Tampa, Fla., when he refused to wear baggie pants or use the N-word like many of his peers. They'd ask him why he dressed so professionally and he'd snipe back "I don't care! Who am I trying to impress?" Heck, Striker loved the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band in addition to old-school rap.
He never, ever followed in life. He led.
“People saw me doing my own thing,” Striker said. “What was cool to the majority, I didn’t think was cool. In high school, everybody’s cool until the report card comes out.
“I did my own thing and I think people saw that. I was never afraid at a young age to be who I was.”
Here are the top 10 linebackers in the NFL Draft...
1. Myles Jack, UCLA (6 foot 1, 245 pounds): Former running back is one of the most athletic players in the draft, doing a pinch of everything at UCLA including 88 tackles (eight for loss) in 2014 before injury-shortened 2015.
2. Darron Lee, Ohio State (6-1, 232): Met with the Bills and for good reason; Lee could be an ideal nimble counterpunch to Preston Brown inside. Ran a 4.47 with 35.5-inch vert after 66 stops (11 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks last season.
3. Reggie Ragland, Alabama (6-1, 247): Old-school thumper left backs with bruises in becoming the third Alabama player ever to earn unanimous All-American honors (Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas). Instinctive, tough but does he have NFL speed?
4. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame (6-2, 223): Knee injury likely to keep Smith out of all of 2016 — health is a major concern — but he can play outside or inside in a 4-3 or a 3-4; had 225 tackles last two seasons.
5. Su'a Cravens, USC (6-1, 226): Is Cravens a safety? A linebacker? It probably doesn't matter. A roaming playmaker with 86 tackles (15 for loss), 5.5 sacks and two interceptions.
6. Jordan Jenkins, Georgia (6-3, 259): Tough and strong, Jenkins is a high-floor prospect who can play right away. Possesses NFL-ready size to force plays back inside.
7. Joshua Perry, Ohio State (6-4, 254): First team All-Big Ten selection after totaling 105 tackles (7.5 for loss) and three sacks; allowed just one broken tackle last two seasons, per NFL.com. Physical throwback in Ragland mold.
8. Scooby Wright, Arizona (6-0, 239): Former two-star recruit was, hands down, the best defensive player in college football in 2014 (163 tackles, 29 for loss, 14 sacks, six forced fumbles), yet played only three games in 2015 due to injury and some question his athleticism.
9. Kentrell Brothers, Missouri (6-0, 245): Extremely sharp instincts, recognition in averaging nearly 13 tackles per game last fall.
10. Deion Jones, LSU (6-1, 222): Ran a sizzling 4.38 at his pro day with a 35.5-inch vertical; father named him after Deion Sanders. Totaled 100 tackles (13.5 for loss) with five sacks.