Tulsa OT Chris Paul embarking on the journey to an unlimited ceiling

For Tulsa OT Chris Paul, there truly is no ceiling. That's why he's on a constant journey -- to get as close to the top as he can reach.

Chris Paul has a bright future waiting for him when his football career is over. But first, the Tulsa OT is doing everything he can to make his mark on the NFL. Few NFL Draft prospects have ascended more than Paul since the very start of his football career. But at every landmark and every milestone, Paul is keeping perspective. It’s gotten him this far.

Chris Paul started late, but started strong

Some play football as early as their elementary years. Some play for the better part of their entire lives. For Paul, however, football was a late addition to his life. He started playing in middle school and quickly took a liking. But early on, Paul wasn’t sure how far he’d go in the sport. He needed to learn a lot and had plenty of room to grow.

“When I got into high school, I still wasn’t nearly as good as I wanted to be,” Paul said. “It took a lot of me just really putting my head down, day in and day out, showing up with a positive attitude, to really see where I could take myself.”

It wasn’t easy, and that confidence was hard to maintain. But when Paul’s junior year hit, it all clicked. He started to receive scholarship offers, and a long football career began to materialize in front of him.

“That’s when it set in for me. ‘Okay, hold on, I’m good at this. I’m talented. This can take me places.'”

Coming to Tulsa

Even when it clicked for Paul, however, there was still uncertainty. The Jersey Village High School team captain was only a two-star recruit in the 2017 cycle, and some offers would take him out of state. But Paul was never overwhelmed by the uncertainty. The most important thing for him was keeping his eyes on the horizon but not the sky.

“One of the most beautiful things about my journey is that I genuinely enjoyed where I was at. I wasn’t really anxious. I wasn’t someone who looked way too far into the future. You have dreams, and you have goals. Showing up and accomplishing those short-term goals day in and day out will lead you to your long-term goals.”

Paul persevered, with a focus on those short-term goals. And soon, that mindset led him to his opportunity on the college football stage. Paul committed to Tulsa in early 2017 and signed his letter of intent later in the year. From there, he was on to the next step.

Staying patient and preparing for the moment

Paul was forced to redshirt his first year when he arrived at Tulsa. His experience in high school, where he had to work for his opportunities, helped him adjust to the college scene. He didn’t let the redshirt year dishearten him. Instead, he used it to his advantage.

“I took it as more of a developmental year, learning from the guys ahead of me,” Paul said. “I didn’t know when my number would be called. I’m a person who’s extremely hyper-critical of myself, so I don’t really point fingers or do the blame game. If you’re not where you want to be, you need to work harder.”

That’s what Paul did. Through 2017 and spring camp in 2018, he kept working. And soon enough, he got his shot — but at a new position.

“Four days before the first game of the season, my position coach called me to the office and said, ‘Hey, Chris, I know you’ve never played guard, but you’re gonna be our right guard.’ There was no surprise associated with that because I’d worked hard. And I started to see that the way I approach things helped it come to fruition.”

An emphasis on being versatile

Paul took his transition to guard in stride. Not only that, but he never relinquished a starting role from that point forward. In 2018, he started eight games at right guard. In 2019, he started 12 at left guard. And through 2020 and 2021, Paul was the Golden Hurricane’s starting right tackle.

Paul’s physical talent helped him adjust to a multitude of roles, but the Tulsa OT says his IQ and knowledge of the offense were even more essential in ensuring his ability to move across the line.

“You have to know your offense,” Paul emphasized. “Guys get dinged up, and you might need to rotate certain ways. So it’s very important to know what’s going on across the board. Right after my first season playing in 2018, I felt like I knew what everyone was doing across the line. So having that football IQ definitely helps with that versatility as well. So if your number is called, it’s seamless.”

It’s also important to know the minutia of how technique differs at guard and tackle and between the left and right sides. That knowledge is another quality that gives Paul a leg up.

“At tackle, in pass protection, the punches are not right at the same time. I usually punch with my outside hand, get that leverage, then connect my inside hand. You have to be more patient. And in the run game, you need to strike, sink, and drive. Whereas with guard, the lineman is right there in front of me. I like guard from that standpoint. I have longer arms, so in pass protection, it’s usually an instant punch, and I can punch with both hands at the same time.”

Earning an invite to the 2022 Senior Bowl

Midway through the season, Paul’s coach called him to the coach’s office. Paul, a team leader who frequently communicated with his coach, viewed it as a routine stop. But when he walked in and saw the box with the Reese’s Senior Bowl logo, he realized another milestone was on the way.

“It wasn’t something that was too far out of reach,” Paul clarified. “But it was definitely nice to see that and really embrace that moment.”

Not only did Paul embrace that moment, but months later, in Mobile, Alabama, he embraced his opportunity in front of NFL scouts. Coming to the event as a relative unknown, Paul left as one of the top performers on the offensive line. And he left a strong impression on evaluators against an equally strong group of defensive linemen.

“That group of guys was definitely stacked. It was great to utilize my technique and fundamentals against those guys. On Day 3, I was excited that I had the opportunity to move to the interior and take reps at guard. That felt really comfortable.”

A rewarding journey, in more ways than one

Paul’s growth as a football player has been exponential. But it’s clear speaking to him that his growth as a man is what he holds above all. Paul accredits his strong foundation to his Nigerian heritage and says it guided him through his days in college.

“Being Nigerian, getting that holistic picture of what your college experience looks like was really important to me and really important to my parents and family. It wasn’t just about football. They wanted to make sure I went to school and was able to pursue something that I was interested in.”

At Tulsa, Paul was in the Computer Information Systems undergraduate program. He was also in the cybersecurity space. But his impact stretched beyond even schooling. In June 2020, he was appointed as the American Athletic Conference’s national representative, representing the entire conference for the NCAA — over 7,000 student-athletes. It was a tremendous responsibility, but one Paul was nothing but grateful for.

“It challenged my leadership development. [Before I was appointed], I was a great ambassador for my university, my team. But this made it that much bigger. Now, when I speak, I’m not just representing myself. I represent the over 7,000 student-athletes in our conference. I have to make sure I’m not just saying what I feel. I have to take into account how others feel, how my peers feel. When I’m voting on legislation, it’s not my vote. I have to collect feedback from our student-athletes.

“It definitely challenged my leadership development, and it’s provided me with opportunities that go beyond measure.”

Focusing on football and making the future count

Paul will undoubtedly impact the community when his football career is over. He’s been a student leader at every junction. In his spare time, he writes and produces alternative R&B music. But right now, football is the only thing on Paul’s mind.

He showcased his talents at the Senior Bowl and tested exceptionally well at the NFL Combine. At 6’4″, 323 pounds, with 33 5/8″ arms, Paul logged a 4.89 40-yard dash, a 27″ vertical, and a 109″ broad jump.

Paul’s Combine performance was not only a testament to his natural athleticism but also his preparation. He put in a great deal of training in preparation for the Combine, knowing how important it was to make the event count.

“[In training], you’re drilling technique. Specific drills over and over again for two months. Drills that you can only do once and you’ll never do again. It’s crazy how much technique can change your times.”

At the Combine, Paul wasn’t alone. He had his teammate Tyler Smith there as well. Paul says Smith’s presence helped him in Indianapolis. Just as they did on and off the football field at Tulsa, the two fed off of one another through drills.

“Tyler’s my guy,” Paul said. “I cannot wait to see what his journey looks like because he’s so talented. Out of this world.”

The continued quest for self-improvement

Most important for Paul is the continued technical refinement that will take place over the coming weeks and months. Whether it’s drilling footwork and hands or watching tape — Lane Johnson is a favorite of Paul’s to watch — the Tulsa tackle intends to waste no time to keep improving.

In Paul’s mind, playing at tackle is a detail-oriented assignment. There’s very little room for error. As he takes himself through a rep at tackle, that becomes clear.

“At tackle, I’m setting off the ball,” Paul said. “If it’s an island situation, and I’m one-on-one, you obviously don’t want to overset. So my sets are a bit more vertical, as opposed to angular. You have to have patience. Throughout the game, I like to switch it up. You don’t want anyone to feel like they’ve memorized you. Whether it’s flash, or waiting a little bit longer to punch, or punching sooner, just switching all of that up to keep them honest.”

It’s a true three-second chess match, and Paul says being ready for anything is the only way to be truly prepared.

“Everything happens in real-time. You have to be able to respond. If he’s carving the edge or doing speed to bull, notice those tendencies so you can set up your feet in time, sink, and take on that rush. If they’re in a Wide-9, and their goal is just to tee off the edge, I’d want to set vertically enough to meet them and time my punch. If they’re twitchy, and they try to hit a spin move or take the inside, you want to keep them inside-out at all costs.”

Paul letting the short-term goals guide him, as he always has

An air of finality comes with being selected in the NFL Draft. But that doesn’t mean the work stops. Paul knows this. He’s prepared for whatever comes next. He aims to perform an audit of his play after each season, as he did at Tulsa. But in the meantime, there are more milestones to chase.

“I set a lot of goals that look like short-term goals and lead to long-term goals. I always say that there is no ceiling. There’s no point you can reach where you’ve made it. There’s always something to improve, and that’s what I love most about this game. It is constant progression.”

To this point, Paul has done everything he can. Now, all that’s left is to wait and find out where his winding path will take him next.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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