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How former OU cornerback Parnell Motley went from undrafted free agent to intercepting Tom Brady

Buccaneers cornerback Parnell Motley runs on the field against the Broncos in the first half of a 28-10 win last Sunday in Denver. [AP Photo/Justin Edmonds]
Buccaneers cornerback Parnell Motley runs on the field against the Broncos in the first half of a 28-10 win last Sunday in Denver. [AP Photo/Justin Edmonds]

Parnell Motley has had plenty of interceptions throughout his football career, but two that rank high on the list came this fall in practice.

Most don't have the chance to intercept a six-time Super Bowl champion outside of a live game, but Motley did. And he certainly made the most of his opportunities, picking off his teammate Tom Brady twice to set himself apart as a rookie in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers preseason camp.

For some, hearing the undrafted rookie cornerback had twice intercepted one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game came as a surprise.

It was no surprise to Motley, and there was no bigger boost than to pick off the four-time Super Bowl MVP that holds countless passing records.

“It was amazing, man, especially a great quarterback like Tom Brady, a future Hall of Famer,” Motley said. “I don’t like to put myself down, but doing stuff and making plays like that on Tom Brady will get you a high level confidence.”

At 6-foot, 181-pounds, Motley was one of the top cover corners in the pass-heavy Big 12 Conference. He amassed 176 total tackles and six interceptions in his four years wearing crimson and cream.

In defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s first season with the Sooners, Motley found his rhythm. While his stats took a slight hit, it was largely due to the fact Grinch trusted him enough with one-on-one coverage on the outside.

Succeeding on an island in the Big 12 can be tough going for most, but Motley accepted the challenge.

In his senior season, he put together solid performances week after week against top Big 12 receivers. He would finish his final season at Oklahoma with 41 total tackles, good for seventh most on the team.

Despite being one of the best players in a strong Sooners’ secondary, Motley wasn’t invited to the 2020 NFL Combine.

When the 2020 NFL Draft rolled around, the 22-year-old watched the entire three-day event from his home in Washington, D.C. He sat through 255 selections, and never heard his name called.

But his snubs only fueled him.

“I took it to heart for a second, but at the end of the day I’m a football player and none of the matters at the NFL level,” Motley said.

The day after the draft, he received a call from the Buccaneers. A month earlier, Tampa Bay had acquired Brady. They now wanted Motley to sign as an undrafted free agent.

Motley had options, but he accepted.

After signing with the Bucs, he made the most of his opportunity in training camp, intercepting Brady and backup QB Blaine Gabbert multiple times. His play quickly caught the attention of head coach Bruce Arians.

“Keep making plays every single day, he’s going to get a job,” coach Bruce Arians told the Tampa Bay Times after a preseason practice.

A few weeks later, Motley had the job.

Motley was one of four undrafted rookies to sign onto the roster that Tampa Bay would head into the season with championship aspirations. His specific process was a rocky one, but he had advice for anyone that ends up in a position similar to his.

“Just keep their head high — just keep their head up, keep God first and keep playing hard,” Motley said. “Because at the end of the day this is a hard, high level of play. Drafted high or undrafted, man, you’re gonna have to play football in the NFL.”

Making the Bucs’ 53-man roster was just the first step in the rookie’s career.

Tampa Bay’s starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting went down due to injury against the Broncos in Week 3, and Motley is now on the short list of players that could step into his role.

“When you just love the sport, man, it can take you so far,” Motley said. “I love playing the game. No matter if I’m the top dog or the underdog, I’ll always be me and play my game. That showed at camp — drafted or undrafted — the type of player I am and what I can do.”

Derek Parker

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