Despite father's reluctance, Ravens LB Zachary Orr and brothers are busy football family

Former NFL tight end Terry Orr didn't encourage his boys to play football, but couldn't stop them.

Football was good to Terry Orr. He says that despite the daily aches and pains he feels more than two decades after his nine-year NFL career ended. However, Orr decided long ago he wouldn't encourage any of his four sons to play the sport. They would have to make that decision on their own.

When the Orr boys went outside to play football, Terry stayed in the house. He watched golf on Sundays, not the NFL. While his sons had a natural curiosity about their father's career, Terry offered only an occasional glimpse, intent to keep many of his memories and mementos, including the two Super Bowl rings that he earned as a tight end with the Washington Redskins, mostly to himself.

"We didn't even play football with him at all," said Zachary Orr, the Ravens linebacker and the second oldest of Terry and Rita Orr's four sons. "Never did we even play catch."

Yet Terry Orr is the patriarch of what might be the busiest football family this fall. His oldest son, Terrance, is the wide receivers coach at DeSoto High School, a highly-touted prep team in Texas. Zachary, a backup inside linebacker for the Ravens, is entering his second NFL season. Nick is a sophomore defensive back at Texas Christian University. Their youngest son, Chris, has a chance to start at linebacker as a true freshman for the University of Wisconsin.

Terry and Rita, meanwhile, don't want to miss a thing. A calendar in their home has every weekend over the next several months planned out, each of their boy's schedules marked in a different color.

"I tell my wife, 'One of us is going one way and one is going the other,'" Terry said. "It's just a maze."

Zachary Orr's journey to the NFL is nearly as improbable as having four boys from the same family — separated by seven years — all play Division I college football. Zachary's been labeled too big or too small, and he's been called too slow more times than he can count. Despite being an all-state high school linebacker from a talent-saturated area, Orr was told by some of the top college coaches in his home state that he wasn't good enough to play for them.

He went to North Texas, partly because the Mean Green's coach, Todd Dodge, was a former teammate of Terry's at the University of Texas. Orr was a four-year starter at North Texas and an All-Conference USA performer, but that wasn't enough for him to get drafted. He signed with the Ravens after a call from scout Lonnie Young, who sold him on the team's history of giving rookie free agents a shot.

Orr, 23, made the team, established himself as a core special teams player and enters his second season looking to follow in the footsteps of former Ravens like Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe, undrafted free agents who ultimately became defensive starters in Baltimore.

"When I went to high school, I heard things like 'He's only on varsity because of his Dad.' But your Dad can't get you in the NFL. He can't get you playing in college," Zachary said. "That only goes so far."

Like father, like sons

Terry Orr played in the NFL from 1986 to 1993, catching 52 passes and scoring 10 touchdowns. His career ended unceremoniously after he broke four bones in his back in his final season. Every November, when the weather gets colder, Terry's back locks up, making it nearly impossible for him to get to his feet.

Over the years, Zachary and his brothers discovered old VHS game tapes from their father's playing days. The grainy footage would have to do, since Terry was never the type to regale them with stories. Terry had stopped watching the NFL altogether until Zachary joined the Ravens.

"With all my injuries, I wasn't a big football fan," Terry said. "I said to them, 'I did it, but you all don't have to go through it.'"

The Orr boys were undeterred. Understanding that there was no dissuading them, Terry asked only that they work hard and respect their coaches. He intentionally sat on the top level of the bleachers for their games, not wanting to interfere. His football tutorials to his sons were brief and usually reserved for the car ride home following games.

"I'm really glad he did it that way," said Nick, 19. "I've seen other dads that pushed their sons to play, and they are doing it because of their dad. They're not doing it because they love it. But football was something that we all really wanted. That's why I think we all have the same work ethic."

All four of the Orr boys played at DeSoto, a perennial South Dallas powerhouse that has produced several NFL players, including Denver Broncos star Von Miller. Terrance, 25, walked onto the team at Texas State University. Zachary, 23, came next, followed by Nick, and then finally, Chris, the 18-year-old who went out of state to play college ball.

"For me, I first started playing because I wanted to be around my brothers all the time and they were playing," Chris said. "My Dad actually emphasized not to play."

Sibling rivalry and revelry

The Orr brothers' skills and love of the sport were augmented during games in the family backyard. The action would get so heated that Terry or Rita would have to bring them inside. To this day, they compete and argue about nearly everything — video games, workout routines and NBA star LeBron James are frequent topics of disagreement.

And Rita, an elementary school teacher, is the biggest trash talker in the family, the boys say.

"When we get together, we talk about who is the strongest, who is the biggest. We try to push each other," Chris said. "We're always competing — who can eat the most, whose body looks the best, who is the best in Madden? Zach thinks he dominates, but it's spread around."

The Orr boys regularly exchange game or practice film, looking for feedback from those who know their game best. They also maintain a text message chain, which can bring words of encouragement one minute, and scathing criticism the next. The boys say that's how they keep each other humble.

When Zachary was beaten for a touchdown pass in the preseason against the New Orleans Saints, his brothers let him know about it. He extends the same courtesy to Terrance, getting on him if his DeSoto receivers are underperforming.

"It's all in good fun, but like I said, there are certain triggers that will create certain emotions," Terrance said. "My boss can get on me or my Dad can, but if Chris or Zach say something to me, I take it a little harder. It motivates you more because we know each other more than anybody. There have been some times where there have been fights, but it's been all out of love."

Lessons learned

It certainly hasn't always been easy. The boys heard rumblings at different times that they got opportunities to play only because of the family name. Terry had his own post-career issues.

In late 2001, he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carried a 14-month prison sentence. Orr admitted to defrauding three former Redskins teammates, including Art Monk, who gave him money to invest in a shoe company. Orr allegedly used the money to pay personal debts.

Terry said he was upfront with his kids about what happened.

"It was a little difficult," Zachary said. "You don't want anything like that to happen to your father or someone you love because you know what type of person they are."

These days, Terry owns a trucking company and spends the weekends watching football games involving his sons. He enjoys their success, but he often tells them how fleeting it all can be. The Orrs have a wall in their home that displays the college degrees of Terry, Rita, Terrance and Zachary. Terry reminds Nick and Chris of the empty spots on the wall that are reserved for their degrees.

Terry and Zachary have long said that the two youngest Orrs are the best athletes in the family.

"Those guys, they are beasts," Zachary said. "If they stay focused, there's no limit for those guys at all."

Zachary smiled broadly when asked whether he thinks about playing on the opposite side of the field from one of his brothers in an NFL game in the not-so-distant future.

"It's something that we've always talked about," he said. "Whether it's one of us, two of us, three of us, four of us, we'd definitely look forward to that."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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