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March 10, 2005

Orie is the story

HOUSTON - Fox has a hit television show called "The OC." But at Jack Yates High School in Houston, they have their own successful OC. Orie "O.C." Lemon is ranked as one of the top players in the class of 2006 and is already a member of the pre-evaluation period Rivals100. Walking through the halls of Yates last week, it was abundantly clear that just like the television show Lemon is a smash hit.

Having to stop every few feet to say hello to friends, teachers and impressed classmates, Lemon, known affectionately as OC to everybody in school, weaved through the crowded halls just like he weaves through opposing defenses.

Lemon plays quarterback for Yates, and as a junior he accounted for 22 total touchdowns, 1,603 yards of total offense and guided Yates to 5-1 district and 10-3 overall record.

But that success breeds pressure. For outsiders that don't follow Texas football, Yates is one of the best inner-city programs in Houston and being the star player for the successful Lions means you are always the center of attention.

"It's difficult some times," Lemon, who is a solid 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, said. "But I don't let it get to me. I just remain focused on the important stuff. I know that I have to worry about school, family and football. I stay focused on that, and then the other stuff - the pressure people throw at me - I don't worry about it."

Lemon said his success and the ability to remain grounded comes from his mother, Mary Smallwood, who one day he hopes to open a Soul food restaurant and have her be the cook at.

"We have five boys and three girls in the family," Lemon said. "She's always getting on me about getting those grades and making sure they're in order. She tells me all the time in order to be a college athlete, you have to stay in school and take care of those grades. I also look to her when times are tough."

And some times they are. But the good thing is he also can lean on his older brother, Oscar Smallwood, who graduated from Yates in 1992 and played football at Texas Tech.

"My older brother gave me that team first attitude," Lemon said. "He played here in 92, and he was a really good linebacker. He was always here to support me, but he also made me take some lumps at home and made me get tougher."

The support from his mother and older brother worked.

Now not only is Lemon one of Houston's best football players, he's humble, he's a student leader and is also a solid citizen. Have any doubts? Ask anybody or everybody at Yates.

"Orie is one of the good ones," Richard White, Yates' assistant principal, said. "We really look to him to be one of the leaders in this school and this community. He's a great kid. He's also one heck of a football player."

He is that, too.

Lemon plays quarterback, but he's best labeled as an athlete. Under center he doesn't have the strongest arm, but it's when the pocket breaks down and he scrambles that Lemon gets to display his amazing athletic ability. When he's scrambling Lemon likes to compare himself to Mike Vick, his sports hero, but with his frame, speed and just overall football IQ it's easy to see him as an outside linebacker or possibly a hard-hitting safety prospect on the next level.

"I really don't care where I play, as long as I play," Lemon said. "I can see why people talk about me being an athlete because I think I could play a number of spots. I like the ball in my hands, though. But I just want a shot."

At this point, he'd really like a shot at wearing the burnt orange of the Texas Longhorns. Lemon said Texas is his No. 1 pick, and while he is still looking for an offer from the Horns if one comes it might be tough to turn down.

"I would commit if they offered me," Lemon said. "I haven't talked to them about a scholarship yet, but they have been sending me plenty of stuff, and I've talked to a few of their coaches. I'm also getting a lot of stuff from Florida State, Arkansas, Houston, Kansas and a lot of other Big 12 teams."

Just like the TV show, Houston's OC does have a fresh younger face that will soon be making headlines. Lemon's younger brother, Eli Lemon, will be a junior this season and there are already whispers from college coaches that he might be the best in the family.

"He's just an amazing running back," Orie Lemon said about his 5-foot-10, 175-pound younger brother. "He's got the potential to be something special. After I'm gone, he'll own this school and carry on the tradition."


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