NFL countdown: Herman grad Atogwe poised to make local football history in draft
Dave Waddell
Windsor Star
Friday, April 22, 2005

O.J. Atogwe has never had much time for television.

But, when he sits down to watch this weekend's NFL draft, Atogwe will be at the centre of his own reality show.

The Windsor native, only the third player to lead the Stanford Cardinal in tackles for three straight seasons, is expected to become the first area athlete selected in the NFL draft.

Windsor's Jerry Kauric, Tecumseh's Brett Romberg and Ed Philion of Essex have played in an NFL regular season game but none of them were drafted.

"It would be a great honour," said Atogwe, a free safety who is projected by NFL draft experts to be selected between the third and fifth rounds.

"Growing up in Windsor and attending Herman, I saw a lot of great athletes. Guys I looked up to and learned from. I've done all I can to help myself and I expect nothing but good things to happen Saturday."

Atogwe plans to watch his future unfold with his family and friends in Forest Glade.

"My life is going to change," the five-foot-11, 219-pound Atogwe said.

"I've wanted to play in the NFL since I started playing football. This is what the hard work and sacrifices have been for."

At Stanford, Atogwe was team MVP in 2003 and an honourable mention Pac-10 All-Conference selection this season.

He finished tied for eighth on the school's all-time interception list (eight) and won the Jack Huston Award for aggressiveness, exceptional on-field excellence and unheralded effort in 2004.

The 23-year-old Atogwe was also a two-sport athlete (track and field, football) and an honour student while studying pre-med. He plans to resume his medical studies after his pro football career.

"I've been motivated to succeed by the great opportunity my parents gave me by coming to Canada from Nigeria," said Atogwe, one of four siblings. I've always tried to uphold our family name in the best light possible to honour my father and grandfather.

"Sometimes, it's hard to express to my family how much they mean to me. It's a great feeling knowing I'm finally going to be able to do something for them to show how much I love them."

After taking care of his family financially, Atogwe's big splurge for himself will be an Apple IPod.

Atogwe's older brother Maha, a second-year cornerback/halfback with the Edmonton Eskimos, admits the family is more nervous than O.J. about the draft Saturday and Sunday.

"It's a great day of celebration for all of us," Maha Atogwe said. "My parents came to Canada to give us a better life, but they never imagined this. I've been nervous for him since December when all these calls from agents, NFL coaches and scouts have been coming in."

That this day has arrived is no surprise to Herman football coach Harry Lumley, who has been inundated with calls from NFL teams checking Atogwe's background.

It was in Atogwe's third season that Lumley began thinking he had someone with the competitive desire and work ethic to reach new heights in Windsor's long football history.

Lumley remembers watching Atogwe, a two-time Royal Arcanum winner as top athlete in Windsor, sob over a regular-season loss to Sandwich in 1999.

"He just stood by the team bus staring at the Sandwich kids celebrating," Lumley said.

"The intensity in his eyes, I've never seen anything like it. When we played them again in the championship game, O.J. just willed us to win a game we had no business winning.

"I've never seen a kid with a better work ethic or desire to win. He's the best example of a student/athlete I've ever seen from Windsor."

INVITED TO COMBINES

As one of only two Canadians invited to the NFL combines (Brantford's Nick Kaczur of the University of Toledo was the other player), Atogwe is eager to find out where he'll go to further his reputation as the hardest-hitting safety in the draft.

Atogwe said the two New York teams, Detroit, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Green Bay, Miami, New Orleans, Carolina and New England have shown the most interest.

"I think I'll go in the third round, but to where I have no idea," said Atogwe, a lifelong Lions fan. "I'm just happy and content to wait for it to happen."