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Thread: Rams rookie is ready ...
-05-02-2009 #1Registered User
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Rams rookie is ready ...
On the football field, Chris Ogbonnaya looks up to Steven Jackson, one of his new teammates as a seventh-round draft choice by the Rams.
"Absolutely," Ogbannaya said. "He's a very physical runner. A very good receiver. Can block. Can do it all. ... I want to learn a lot of things from him while I'm here."
But off the field, Ogbonnaya (pronounced O-buh-NIGH-yuh) has learned many of his life lessons from his father. His father, Kalu Ogbonnaya, grew up in a village in Nigeria before he emigrated to the United States in 1976. It turned out to be a classic coming-to-America story. "Nigeria, economically, hasn't been the most prosperous (country)," Ogbonnaya said. "He was lucky enough to get sponsored by a family in South Carolina who ended up being my godparents. Self-made man. Went to Clemson University. Went to medical school after that."
And went on to become a physician.
"He's probably been my biggest role model, the person I live up to the most," Ogbonnaya said. "He's helped me along in this process, and he's a great man."
Along the way, his father also helped him get through more than his share of family heartache. In 2002, Ogbonnaya lost two teen-age brothers, one in a motor vehicle accident and the other from congenital heart failure.
"And just a lot of different things," Ogbonnaya said. "Lost best friends from cancer. An uncle."
For his departed brothers in particular, Ogbonnaya says he plays the game of football to glorify them.
And if the U.S. proved to be his father's land of opportunity, Ogbonnaya hopes Rams Park is his land of opportunity as an NFL player.
"Absolutely," he said. "Whether it's playing special teams or playing running back in some sort of capacity, then I'm all for it. I just want to help this team in some way. ... I'm excited about the opportunity. I want to make the team and run with it."
Ogbonnaya says he also learned patience and discipline from his father — two qualities that came in handy playing at the University of Texas.
"Just understanding that things happen for a reason," he said. "You just want to take your time, and when you get the opportunity, to make the most of it. I think that's what I've done up until this point. I want to continue on doing that."
On a Longhorns depth chart deep in the skill positions, Ogbonnaya had to wait a long time for any appreciable playing time. He arrived in Austin as a wide receiver, and over the course of his college career was moved to fullback and running back.
"It allowed me to apply what I learned at those positions to playing running back and helped me in the long run," he said.
The time at fullback helped his blocking skills, and obviously the time at wide receiver helped his pass catching out of the backfield. Even so, as he entered his senior year at Texas he had only 66 carries and 29 receptions to show for his college career. Not much at all to show the pro scouts.
But when Jamaal Charles declared for the draft following the 2007 season, Ogbonnaya finally got his chance in the pass-happy Texas offense. Starting seven times in 2008, Ogbonnaya rushed 74 times for 373 yards (a 5.0 average), and caught 46 passes for 540 yards (an 11.7 average). The 46 catches broke Eric Metcalf's single-season record for a Longhorns running back. Combined, he scored seven touchdowns last season, including two against the Missouri Tigers.
It was just enough playing time to get noticed by the NFL. At 6-0, 220 pounds, Ogbonnayah is a power back with hands. He first noticed that the Rams might be interested in him while participating in the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game. He talked to Rams running backs coach Sylvester Croom at the NFL scouting combine, where he ran a decent time — for his size — in the 40 (4.57 seconds).
But Ogbonnaya had no private workout with St. Louis, nor did the Rams seem to pay any special attention to him at the Longhorns' pro day. That all changed on Day 2 of the draft Sunday.
"Sly (Croom) had him down as a guy (to draft) at some point," Rams general manager Billy Devaney. "He started at about the fifth round to campaign for him."
Croom finally got his way, and Ogbonnaya got the call in the seventh round, the 211th player chosen in the draft. But at least he has his foot in the door and a chance to compete with Kenneth Darby, Samkon Gado, Brian Leonard and Antonio Pittman for a backup job at running back behind Jackson.
"He's a physical, slashing runner," Devaney said. "He'll fit what we're trying to do. He's a downhill, power kind of guy."
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