One of the most important elements of the pre-draft process is the interview portion, where teams get a better feel for each person they are considering bringing into their locker room.
While fans and media members can learn a significant amount about players from watching film, looking at Combine numbers, and assessing a player’s performance at All-Star events, outsiders typically have a limited understanding of who each prospect is off the field.
In an effort to pull back the curtain, long-time NFL Offensive Coordinator and current Dallas Cowboys consultant Brian Schottenheimer sat down with Georgia LB and first round hopeful Nakobe Dean.
Schottenheimer and Dean discuss the 21-year-old’s unique recruiting experience, his ability to balance school and football, his personality on and off the field, his reflection on the past season, and much more. Below, we have highlighted some of the most important questions and answers from the interview.
Nakobe’s Recruiting Experience
Brian Schottenheimer: So I’ve got to start with this. Horn Lake Mississippi, nation's top prep linebacker, how in the world did they let you out of Mississippi, over the state of Alabama, and get you to Georgia?
Nakobe Dean: It was a lot of going back and forth… I just felt like I had to leave home. I couldn't be too close to home. I needed to go somewhere to expand and grow more as an individual. My mom couldn’t be so hands on and just touch me that way. I felt like Georgia let me do that and I liked the way the program was run like a business. It was a business, but it also had a family feel once you got into it…. It was crazy. It came all the way down to the wire. I didn't even I didn't even commit [until] signing day.
Dean added that he was undecided where he wanted to go to school until about 30 minutes before he was scheduled to go to school and announce his signing. It is safe to say he made the correct choice.
The Importance of Academics
Brian Schottenheimer: Everybody talks a lot about what an excellent student you are. And again, the track record is amazing. Like, no Bs in high school. Unbelievable. What about mechanical engineering? When did you know you wanted to do that? And why in the world? Why would you want to pursue something that difficult?
Nakobe Dean: Growing up it has always been about education. It was about education 100% of the time. I'm the only D-I athlete coming out of my immediate family. We never had any D-I athletes, so it was always about education — it was never about ball. My mother and my family didn't know that ball was going to pay for my college until after I got a scholarship…
I wanted to be a doctor. On all my visits I was telling teams that I wanted to do biomedical engineering and I want to do the pre-med track with that. But after I went through all my visits and seeing the biomedical engineers, I realized that this isn’t what I want to do. So I changed it to mechanical engineering and I started seeing the different jobs, as there are a lot of avenues to go into. My mom told me, “Well, you're not going to go to college to major in doll kits. You’re going to get your school paid for and they are going to take care of you, so you’re going to do something notable.”
Dean would go on to talk about what his schedule looks like during the season where he has to balance being a star LB for the football team and a top notch student all at once.
Nakobe’s Personality On and Off the Field
Brian Schottenheimer: Tell me a little bit about your personality off the field… I talked to a bunch of the coaches at Georgia just about your personality, but let’s first look at off the field.
Nakobe Dean: Off the field, I would say my personality is chill for the most part. I like to relax but I do let loose a little bit with friends. I like to have fun, but for the most part I really chill.
Most of the time, I'm working on something, so I'm not sitting around, I don't watch TV much. I'm not saying I wouldn’t, I just don't watch much. Most of the time I’m working on something trying to do research or looking up stuff trying to better myself as an overall person. Some people might describe me as being a little too serious, but some might describe me as being a little too loose also, so it's just depending on who you are.
Schotty added that the Georgia coaches say that Dean is an excellent listener — someone who is very observant and would sit back and take it all in.
When on the field, Dean said: Of course there's like a little switch as far as energy level. Anything I'm passionate about, I’m turnt up about it. I'm passionate about football and I do it with all my effort and all my passion.
When I'm on the field, I'm just able to basically pour it all out. I will say that I'm tenacious, I'm intense on the field. Just knowing the work I put in and the fun I'm having on the field must all come together, and I just get loose when I'm not there.
On the field, others have described Dean as the alpha who takes charge.
His Uncanny Connection with Teammates
Brian Schottenheimer: You were a Team Captain voted on by your teammates.. What does that mean to you? That's got to be pretty special.
Nakobe Dean: It meant a lot. In the offseason, we had what we called score sessions. The score system basically hit on our core principles: toughness, resiliency, connection to composure. And in those courses we were able to basically learn about each other more. We got more connected as a team.
When you’re on the team, you have your own clique that you hang out with and things like that. But we were able to get more connected as a team as far as we would have a whole team run. We would have 10 sprints that we had to do that weren't in the practice script. We would do challenges. They'll call somebody out there and if you can say his name right there, we'll take a sprint out. So they'll pick a freshman and ask him about a senior. It was things like that that made us basically connect more. We became better friends who were able to hang out outside of football also. That connection piece really helped us.
Not only was Dean a leader of a special team and defense, but he was also the leading member of a talented linebacking crew. Outside of Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall, both prospects in next month's draft, shared snaps playing opposite Dean. The group practiced friendly competition while also striving for the “everybody eats mentality,” which created an excellent environment for success among the Bulldog LBs.
Recapping Nakobe and Georgia’s Special Season
Brian Schottenheimer: Take us through the emotion from the SEC championship game through the playoffs and to the rematch, just about some of the highs and the lows and the journey in general.
Nakobe Dean: The season was something that looked like a book, how every game was a chapter in a book of the season. We knew that we wanted to be legendary before the season started, so we weren’t comparing ourselves to other teams from around the country during the season, we're comparing ourselves to some of the best defenses that played college football, or NFL football.
After two games, we were getting compared to some other top defenses, but we felt like we were competing against nobody but ourselves during the whole season. It was always a push to get ourselves better.
So going throughout the season, we were working and it got to the time where we almost got complacent. We started kind of playing lesser teams, in a game like Missouri, although we won big, we let the game get out of hand. After the game, Quay and I said that we can’t play like that as someone bigger and better, will expose us and beat us. It helped refocus the team for the most part and we tried to stay level throughout the season as far as emotion goes.
Of course, the SEC championship was emotionally different for a lot of guys. Seeing the older guys like Julian Rochester who have been there for five or six years getting emotional about losing because he just loved it so much. So after the loss of the SEC championship game, that definitely refocused us. It kind of made us mad a little bit. Definitely from my standpoint, we took the way we lost as a lesson — something to get better at.
We didn't just take it in and just ball up and become less self-confident. So like JD said, it was smelling salts — it woke us up. So the whole month of December, it was work. It was head down work. The mentality became that there was no way we lose in these next two games.
Through the leadership of older players on the team like Dean, the Bulldogs recovered seamlessly from their SEC championship defeat and had their eyes set for a rematch for weeks. Once they got it, they did not squander their opportunity and ended the 2021 season as national champions.
Update on the Nakobe’s Draft Process
Brian Schottenheimer: Tell me about the combine. How did you feel you did and how do you feel about the overall experience of the combine?
Nakobe Dean: I didn't participate in the combine due to injury, but it was a great experience. Growing up with the combine, you kind of watch the 40s, watch the drills, and watch the bench press on YouTube. It’s something that you dream of being a part of.
There is a lot of behind the scenes stuff that, of course, the audience doesn’t see. The meetings with the teams were the most interesting for me. It was fun. I felt like that was fun. I felt intimidated or nervous in the first meeting a little bit just because it was my first meeting in front of an NFL team. But after that, we started talking about ball, and I know ball. I can talk ball all day.
Dean also found the differences in the attitudes between each team during the interviews very interesting. While he felt they were evaluating him in the meeting, Dean was also evaluating them. For Dean, he said it was just a fun experience and he was blessed and grateful to be a part of it.
While Dean has not been able to physically participate in much of the pre-draft process due to injury, he certainly checks many boxes in terms of his play. While he is small for the off-ball linebacker position, he is ferocious and flies to the football. In addition to the tape, Dean is well-spoken, a leader, and someone who any coach would love have leading their defense. He is a highly sought-after prospect and should hear his name called early on the final Thursday in April.