For now, Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel is focused on the Outland Trophy, the award he envisioned winning when other youth-league football players fantasized about striking a Heisman pose.
"We're an offensive line family," said Joeckel, an Arlington High School graduate whose father, grandfather and older brother also cleared running lanes for others at the college level. "I'm super excited. It's something I've heard about my whole life."
But Joeckel, a junior who will learn his Outland fate during Thursday night's live presentation at The Home Depot College Football Awards Show, understands most football fans are more interested in his decision regarding the NFL than his trophy collection.
It's been that way since November, when an NFLDraftScout.com analyst called him the "top-rated prospect, regardless of position" eligible to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Joeckel, who protects the blind side for A&M quarterback/Heisman Trophy candidate Johnny Manziel, also has topped the CBSSports.com player rankings for NFL prospects.
"It's really cool," Joeckel said about the glowing reviews of his NFL potential. "It's something to address. As an offensive lineman, I think we deserve to be up there that high. It's an important position. Just not a flashy one. It will be something I look at and make a decision later on."
The Miami Dolphins were the last NFL team to spend the top overall pick on an offensive lineman when they selected Jake Long, a three-time Pro Bowl performer, in 2008. Could Joeckel be the next Jake Long?
Joeckel (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) said he plans to discuss his NFL options with family members and A&M coaches after No. 9 A&M (10-2) faces No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2) on Jan. 4 in the AT&T Cotton Classic at Cowboys Stadium. During a phone interview, he indicated plans to compare notes with A&M right tackle Jake Matthews, a fellow junior and three-year starter who also is projected as a potential first-round pick in April, before Joeckel decides whether to skip his senior season.
"Our decisions would be based on each other a little bit," Joeckel said. "We've talked some, but nothing serious. We both have to talk to our families."
And that decision can wait until January, in Joeckel's estimation. What will be determined Thursday is whether Joeckel wins the Outland in a three-man race that includes Alabama center Barrett Jones, the 2011 recipient, and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper.
A victory for Joeckel would mean building on a family legacy of NCAA blockers. His father, David, was a four-year letterman as an offensive lineman at Texas Tech (1979-82). His older brother, also named David, played offensive line for DePauw, a Division III school in Greencastle, Ind. And his grandfather, Reece Washington, played tight end for Texas Tech.
"I've watched the awards show for a lot of years," Joeckel said. "Coming into college, I had no idea I'd ever be there. I'm humbled by it. It would mean so much to win (the Outland) because it's something my Dad has talked to me about for a long time. It's something I've worked for since I was little."
In an offensive line family, the stakes don't get much higher.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760