Potential Eagles' prospect Oher hopes to turn page after best-seller on his life story

Michael Oher says that he lived through his difficult childhood, and doesn't need to read about it now.
Michael Oher says that he lived through his difficult childhood, and doesn't need to read about it now.
Posted: February 20, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - There was a best-selling book written about Michael Oher, but Oher hasn't read it.

The University of Mississippi offensive tackle whom some mock drafts have going to the Eagles in the first round said yesterday at the NFL Scouting Combine that he figures he lived the book - he doesn't need to read about his climb from ghetto homelessness and horrific deprivation in Memphis, Tenn., to being adopted by a wealthy white family, to college football stardom.

Thanks to "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game," many thousands of people know Oher's story, which was chronicled against the backdrop of the elevation of the left-tackle position in an NFL obsessed with protecting the quarterback. Michael Lewis, the author of baseball's "Moneyball," made Oher the subject of his 2006 exploration of football. His interest was spurred by Oher's adoption by Lewis' childhood friend, former Ole Miss point guard Sean Tuohy, a Memphis businessman. Movie rights were sold for seven figures; Oher said he has no preference for an actor to play him.

"I don't have any say-so about it . . . I think it's a good book. Something's being made into a movie about you; I don't think too many people get a chance to do that; I think that's special," Oher said. "But I don't think it's changed a lot [about Oher's life]. A lot of people know about my life [now], and just a lot of things that I overcame.

"From what a lot of people have said about it, I think it was fairly accurate. I think it was a good look. [Lewis] talked to me a lot about the stuff; we went over a lot of things. I didn't need to read it."

Some of the "stuff" Oher and Lewis went over was how he lived for months with his drug-addicted mother and six of his brothers in an old Chevy Monte Carlo, the boys sleeping on top of one another. How when he got to Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, thanks to the intervention of a youth coach and father figure, he was a high school student who had no concept of what a noun was or what the Civil War had been. How when the Tuohys, a prominent Briarcrest family, adopted him, his new mom, Leigh Anne Tuohy, quickly grew tired of listening to speculation from her friends about the lurid dangers of bringing a large, young black man into the home where she was raising her white teenaged daughter. How Oher's altercation with an Ole Miss teammate was spurred by the teammate's derision toward Oher's "cracker family."

Oher (pronounced "Orr") said having everyone know about his struggles wasn't nearly as difficult as the struggles themselves had been.

"There were a lot of people that I don't know coming up to me, saying that 'I feel that I know you,' and things like that," after the book came out, Oher said. "They know about me from the time I was a child up to the time I was about 18 or 19. And a lot of the problems that I had with my family, and a lot of the struggles I went through, but things like that never bother me. I've been through a lot of stuff in my life. Things like this come easy and natural for me. A lot of times it goes in one ear and out the other."

The book tells how Oher's IQ was measured at 80 when he was a child, attending school infrequently, but was pegged 100 to 110 after he had been at Briarcrest a while. It tells how, despite spending 4 hours a night, 5 days a week with a tutor his senior year in high school, Oher needed correspondence-school credits from a special BYU program to qualify for college.

Oher said yesterday that after switching from journalism, he is now "15 to 18" credits short of a degree in criminal justice, the major most Ole Miss football players gravitate toward, Lewis writes, because it requires little in the way of language or math skills.

"I was on the dean's list my sophomore year. I was on the honor roll a couple of times," Oher said. "I'm a smart guy. I'm very smart."

Lewis also gave Oher a lot to live up to on the football field.

Undoubtedly, Oher, who said he clocked in at 6-4 1/4, 309 pounds yesterday, was an amazing specimen for a place like Briarcrest Christian School, and he quickly developed into one of the country's top offensive-line prospects. But the author, perhaps trying too hard to sell the reader on his subject's talents, made him out to be a unique, freak-of-nature athlete, the stuff of NFL legends, a surefire pro superstar.

Oher is expected to be drafted in the first round, but many observers rank him fourth among the four elite offensive-tackle prospects in this draft. Some scouts question whether he might have more of a guard's blocky frame. Others feel that since he came to the game late, he's still pretty raw. Oher has been faulted for not being consistently dominant.

Oher didn't quite have the college career Lewis seemed to be predicting; he needed a strong senior season to earn a first-round grade. Oher acknowledged yesterday he played too much on ability, not enough on technique, until his senior season.

"I was kind of too athletic a lot of the time," he said. "My senior year, I showed everybody how physical I was, and that I could be a nasty player and finish plays. [I] took my game to a whole new level my senior year. I worked a lot more on my technique, staying low, firing off the ball and just finishing plays."

The Eagles are a week away from free agency for both of their starting offensive tackles, 34-year-old Tra Thomas and 35-year-old Jon Runyan. They are discussing a new contract with Thomas' agent.

There has been no such word about Runyan, who is coming off right knee microfracture surgery. Offensive tackle Winston Justice, a 2006 second-round pick, is on the trading block.

It seems very likely the Birds will target an offensive tackle, drafting 21st and 28th overall in the first round.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has the Eagles getting Oher at 28 after taking Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells at 21.

That would be quite a haul. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said recently that he thinks all four top o-tackles - Alabama's Andre Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith, Virginia's Eugene Monroe, and Oher - will go in the top 15. In that case, the Eagles would have to trade up to draft one of them; the second first-round pick could come in handy.

Oher said yesterday that NFL teams mostly seem to be aware of the book and his journey, but none of them asked any questions about it during the first meet-and-greet in Indianapolis, Wednesday evening.

"They just told me that they knew about it. They just told me they just wanted to talk football," Oher said. "It's all about playing football and just becoming an NFL player." *

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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