Six months ago, Octavious Bishop stood in front of donors at the University of Texas Club and told a humbling story of his high school football recruitment.
Raised by a single mother in the slums of north Houston, the future All-Big 12 offensive tackle made do without a land line telephone, so when college recruiters wanted to get in touch with Bishop, they had to dial a payphone at the apartment complex where he lived.
Drug dealers often picked up, expecting a work order but instead fielded requests from coaches, including Texas’ John Mackovic, to “Put Big O on the phone.”
“All of my scholarship offers came from that payphone,” Bishop said.
In a sense, so did an offer to work for the Texas football team.
Listening to Bishop’s payphone story on that Feb. 27 afternoon — prior to a basketball win over third-ranked Oklahoma — was UT athletic director Mike Perrin, who was enthralled by the rags-to-riches account and began scheming up a plan on how to use Bishop’s experiences to benefit Charlie Strong’s football team.
Three months later, on May 27, Texas issued a press release announcing Bishop, 41, had accepted a position on Strong’s staff as director of student leadership/personal development. In short, Bishop, a licensed social worker who will soon have his doctorate, helps players work through whatever issues they’re dealing with. Bishop describes it even more succinctly: “I don’t coach quarterbacks or other positions. I assess behavior.”
Perrin just knew he had to have him.
“I’m sitting there listening to this remarkable story and I thought, ‘You know, this has an impact on me. I can’t imagine what impact it’ll have on an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old,’” Perrin said. “He’s going to be in a position to help a youngster who needs encouragement or a youngster who needs a little bit of scolding about not going to class. This is the type of stuff that Charlie Strong talks about.”
Strong enters his third season at UT with 52 scholarship players in their first or second years, meaning many of them for the first time are balancing the demands of academics and athletics with the added stress of peer relationships and finances. It’s the side of football Joe Fan pays little mind, but is important as it could impact an individual’s performance and, by association, the outcome of a game.
So when one of Strong’s players is having girlfriend problems or feeling down about a blown school assignment, he wants him to stop by the football building and see Bishop, who sits in on all of the staff meetings to keep a pulse on the team. Sure, coaches are versed in problem-solving, but Strong says, “I’ve always felt like you needed another voice as a coaching staff.”
Bishop said his key message to players is “acoustics matter” and it is on the athlete to sift through a coach’s screaming and shouting to uncover a takeaway to help him grow. An ordained minister, Bishop leads team chapel and along with offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez plays music and sings for the team.
“He’s been a super addition to our staff,” Strong said.
The payphone story is one of several that depict Bishop’s rough upbringing. As a second grader living in Milwaukee, he spent many nights alone until his mom came home from her second job. Years later, the two worked on the same shift at McDonald’s and frequently earned honors for employee of the month.
Entering high school at Spring Westfield, Bishop had never played organized football and was reading at the level of a fourth grader. Too, he suffered from dyslexia. The school’s coach, Emory Bellard, the former Texas A&M head coach and Texas offensive coordinator, ordered an assistant to swing by Bishop’s home every morning at 6 and bring him to the school for early tutoring. Some teachers wanted Bishop to enroll in special education courses, but Bellard put up resistance and soon enough Bishop was reading at the same pace as his peers.
“I learned how to advocate because someone was an advocate for me,” Bishop said.
The first 300-pounder in the history of UT football, Bishop spent time in a couple of NFL camps before shuffling off to NFL Europe and then the XFL where, as a member of the Chicago Enforcers, he suffered a career-ending leg injury. Bishop returned to UT and earned a bachelor’s in social work in 2001 and a master’s in social work in 2008.
In the coming months, the man who as a child had a pronounced stutter, will earn the right to go by Dr. Bishop. A Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Walden University-Minnesota, Bishop is waiting to defend his dissertation on the quantification of depression. Boiled down to one sentence, he hopes his research will give psychologists the means to better gauge the level with which a patient is depressed.
“If we’re able to quantify better the spectrum of depression and anxiety, then hopefully we’ll be able to minimize the over prescription of anti-depressants,” Bishop said.
Those dealers hogging the neighborhood payphone would be proud.