"He came in at 227 pounds and was returning punts, had racehorse legs and stuff like that, and we're trying to recruit him over,'' former Miami defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said of Warren Sapp. MIAMI HERALD PHOTO
Warren Sapp was a highly recruited football player coming out of Apopka High School, where he played tight end. But Sapp wasn't the only person recruiters needed to impress. Sapp's mother, Annie Roberts, had a vested interest in her son's future.
The Florida State Seminoles got off on the wrong foot when head coach Bobby Bowden came to see her, but did not visit the family's home.
Florida Gators head coach Steve Spurrier fared no better.
"It was intuition, like when you pray about a situation," Roberts said.
The Miami Hurricanes struck all the right notes.
"I loved Miami, loved it when I first got here," Roberts said. "They answered everything I really needed to know. The most important thing was education. (Adviser Anna Price) told me, 'If he has any problem with getting adjusted to schoolwork, there will be no excuse because he'll have tutoring. I am the academic coordinator. I will let you know if he doesn't come up to par.'
"That's what sold me, right then."
But Sapp had to be sold, too.
"I was talking to Warren and said, 'What are you going to do?'" Roberts said. "He said, 'Mama, I know you love Miami.' I said, 'No, you're the one who has to go to school. Anywhere you want to go, I'll support to you.' He decided on Miami. That was that."
Sapp attended a Miami football camp as an eighth-grader. Even then, he stood out for his brashness.
"He was playing quarterback, and he showed tremendous leadership skills," former UM defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said. "He was in the championship. And I remember one of the coaches wanted to call a play and then Warren called his own play. So, he called his own play and he scored a touchdown and they won the game. So, he turned around and looked at the coach and said, 'See, I told you so'. And you know what? We said, 'What a great deal of a young man to have that kind of moxie at that age to be able to do that.'"
During Sapp's redshirt season as a tight end, coaches pushed all the right buttons to get Sapp to switch to a position on the defensive line. Orgeron made a compelling case.
"This is what I told him: 'At tight end you might catch maybe one or two touchdown passes per game, but you can affect the game every down by sacking the quarterback. Warren, you're going to be a first-round pick and you're going to be one of the best defensive linemen to ever play the game with your speed and quickness.'"
During a game at Miami, Sapp was held by the offensive lineman trying to block him. No penalty was called.
"Most guys would complain," Orgeron said. "Warren came to the sidelines and said, 'This guy will never hold me again.' And it was the darnedest butt-kicking I've ever seen a human take in my life. The intensity level was like no other player I ever coached."