Washington Huskies

NFL draft: Huskies’ sack leader Hau’oli Kikaha picked by Saints in second round; Wilson’s Xavier Cooper picked by Browns in third

The all-time sacks leader in Washington Huskies history will continue his football career in New Orleans.

The Saints selected Hau’oli Kikaha, the prolific pass rusher from Hau’ula, Hawaii, with the 44th overall pick (the 12th pick of the second round) in the NFL draft on Friday, giving the Huskies four players drafted in the same year for the first time since 2004.

And he wasn’t the only local defender picked on the second day of the NFL draft. Xavier Cooper, a defensive tackle who prepped at Wilson High and played collegiately at Washington State, was selected 96th overall (the 32nd pick of the third round) by the Cleveland Browns — one day after they made former UW defensive tackle Danny Shelton the 12th overall pick in the draft.

It’s the first time in UW history that four Huskies have been picked in the second round or higher. On Thursday, the Huskies had three players picked in the first round — Shelton, Marcus Peters (18th) and Shaq Thompson (25th) — for the first time in school history.

Kikaha, listed at 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, set UW’s single-season and career sacks records as a fifth-year senior in 2014. He tied for the national lead with 19 sacks, and finished his career with 36 — six more than previous record-holder Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.

Such production yielded a slew of postseason accolades, including unanimous All-America honors — only four other Huskies can make that claim — and first-team All-Pac-12 selections for both football and academics.

As a true freshman in 2010 — back when his last name was still Jamora, before he changed it to honor his mother — he finished with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks. But he tore his anterior-cruciate ligament four games into his sophomore year, and tore it again before the 2012 season.

He returned in 2013 as one of the country’s best pass rushers. Kikaha totaled 13 sacks that year, and finished with 32 sacks in his final 27 collegiate games.

Kikaha played a hybrid rush-linebacker position at UW called the “buck,” which made his NFL projection somewhat murky. Is he an outside linebacker who can cover tight ends? Or a defensive end who shouldn’t be asked to do much more than rush the passer? Saints coach Sean Payton said Kikaha will likely play outside linebacker. Kikaha has no preference.

“I see myself on the field somewhere, playing wherever I can for the coaching staff,” Kikaha said. “They know what’s best. I have a job to do, which is compete anywhere they place me. Hopefully they don’t put me at quarterback, but if I have to compete I will. I’m just happy to be part of this team.”

He planned to celebrate, he said, by going to the beach with his family and friends, who were gathered in Hawaii to watch the draft.

Cooper, meanwhile, watched the draft with family and friends in his hometown of Tacoma. He said that as the third round neared its end, he considered telling everyone to go home, come back and try again tomorrow.

Then the call came, and Cooper became the third Pac-12 player drafted by the Browns in the first three rounds. Pass-rushing defensive end Nate Orchard from Utah was the second.

“It’s going to be a great feeling working with those guys, trying to earn a spot on that roster,” Cooper said.

A 6-foot-4, 299-pound fourth-year junior, Cooper declared for the draft after finishing the 2014 season with 37 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. The Browns traded up to pick Cooper shortly before the third round ended.

He trained in San Diego with Orchard and Shelton, and said the Browns want him to play right next to Shelton, a nose tackle, on their defensive line.

“Danny’s more of a nose tackle, I’m more of a 3-tech,” Cooper said. “I’m more penetrating. Danny holds up, too. We’re different players.”

Cooper is the highest-drafted WSU defensive lineman since 1998, when Leon Bender and Dorian Boose were each picked in the second round.