BY BILL COATS Tuesday, September 7, 2010 12:00 am

With a total of two receptions in his one season of college football, tight end Fendi Onobun arrived at Rams Park in late April about as raw as rookies come.

"I just remember coming in after the draft for the rookie minicamp. I was like, 'Man, what'd I get myself into?'" Onobun said Monday after the Rams' first official regular-season practice.

That Onobun was still around for that practice is the culmination of what he described as an "unexplainable" journey. "It's an unbelievable story, and it's just the beginning," he said. "I'm really, really excited."

The 6-foot-6, 249-pound Onobun played basketball at the University of Arizona, mostly as a reserve forward behind future NBA performers Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger.

After completing his degree, Onobun was considering continuing basketball in Europe. But recalling an overture he received from the football staff at Arizona during his sophomore year, Onobun decided to "roll the dice and see what happens."

He enrolled at the University of Houston and joined the football team. He hadn't played football since he was a seventh-grader at O'Donnell Middle School in Houston.

Onobun got into 11 games, mostly on special teams, for the Cougars. His two receptions netted 33 yards. But the Rams were blown away by his athletic ability during a private workout and took him in the sixth round of the draft (No. 170 overall).

That gave Onobun about four months to make enough progress to prove that he was worth keeping, at least on the practice squad. He did more: He made the 53-man roster, despite some worrisome moments Saturday, the day the majority of cuts were made.

Players who are let go get a phone call; those who are sticking don't.

"I was a little worried. Family was calling me, friends were calling me: 'Hey, did you make the 53?'" Onobun said. "Every time the phone rang, I jumped. I was like, 'It's no secret. I'll let you know as soon as I find out.' ... But no news was good news."

Ultimately, the Rams decided the Onobun could contribute now, at least on special teams, and kept four tight ends. The others are Billy Bajema, Daniel Fells and fifth-round draftee Michael Hoomanawanui.

"It was pretty evident that (Onobun) has some skills; he's an athlete," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "Then when you said, 'OK, let's see when he gets the pads on,' he showed enough in pads that he deserved and earned his way on the 53.

"Now, he still has a long way to go. He knows that. ... We'll just keep on pushing and hopefully at the end there we have a refined tight end."

butler is back

On Monday, exactly a month after he suffered a torn ligament in his knee, safety James Butler returned to team drills.

"They're trying to ease me into everything, so I was just on the scout team, getting back used to the speed of the game," Butler said. "It's been a long time. I missed pretty much the whole training camp."

Craig Dahl took over for Butler with the first team at strong safety. On Wednesday, Butler hopes to take another step toward trying to regain his job.

His time on the sideline "was very frustrating, especially when you worked so hard during the summer to get to this point," Butler said. "But I'm excited to be here right now."


Quarterback A.J. Feeley took snaps under center Monday for the first time since suffering thumb and elbow injuries Aug. 21 at Cleveland. ... Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, cut by the Rams on Saturday, was picked up by Miami. ... Rookie defensive end Hall Davis, drafted in the fifth round by the Rams and later traded to Washington, then cut by the Redskins, was signed to Tennessee's practice squad.