TAMPA — A blow to the head of Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware just midway through the first quarter Sunday left him a little groggy. And it opened the door just a sliver for Lely High School graduate and Cowboys linebacker Steve Octavien.
It wasn’t open very long.
But for a half dozen plays during one series, Octavien -- second on the depth chart behind Ware at weakside linebacker -- found himself getting a lot more NFL experience and playing time than he expected when a wobbling Ware came out of the game to clear the cobwebs.
A regular on special teams, Octavien was suddenly in the middle of a defensive series for the Cowboys.
“I was ready," Octavien said in the locker room after his Cowboys defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 34-21, at Raymond James Stadium. “That’s my duty being a backup. And I wasn’t nervous going out there. I was really tired but I wasn’t nervous at all. I was just tired coming off three or four special teams."
The early report on Ware was that he had suffered a “blow to the head” and his return was “questionable."
He answered the question a few minutes later when he returned for the Cowboys’ next defensive series. And Octavien, who paid for 14 tickets to the game for friends and family with about 20 to 25 people coming up from Naples, was back working full time on special teams.
Asked how he thought he played, he said he thought he did well on special teams.
“I did all my assignments and my job. I think I did pretty well,” he said. “When I went into the game (replacing Ware), I could have done better. I could have put on a little more pressure. But overall, I thought I was decent.”
A three-year starter at Lely, Octavien played both ways his junior and senior years. Also competing in track, he won the state title in the discus his junior year and finished second his senior year. His best throw in 2003 was the 10th-best prep throw in the nation.
He said he’s thinking of some day trying out for the Olympics, but it's still a long way away.
“Right now, it’s just football,“ he said.
Originally recruited out of high school by Illinois, he attended junior college in Illinois instead, moving on to play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers his junior and senior years despite being hampered by leg injuries. He led the Cornhuskers in tackles his senior year.
Not drafted out of college, he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. After being cut, he was signed to the Washington Redskins practice squad. The Cowboys picked him up late last season, filling the roster spot of Kyle Kosier, who was put on injured reserve with a bad foot. Octavien appeared in two games for the Cowboys on special teams, becoming the first player out of Lely High School to play in the NFL.
“It’s been a long journey, even coming out of high school,” said Octavien, whose nephew, Keith Eloi, was one of the final cuts by the Redskins last week. "Going to (play junior college ball) for a couple years then going to Nebraska and suffering all those injuries, which probably prevented me from getting drafted. Then in K.C., I pulled my hamstrings again and got released.
"I was on the practice team at Washington and then I got here and fought my way to make the roster. It’s a long journey and it‘s still going.”