David Ojabo: From Nigeria to Aberdeenshire in the second round of the NFL Draft

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Ojabo’s emotional exclamation of happiness after being selected packed a little more punch due to the trials and tribulations he faced along the way, including tearing his Achilles just weeks before the draft.

Although some suggested the injury could have affected his draft stock – some pundits predicted he would be a first-round pick – by falling in the second round, the Ravens might have pulled off a masterstroke, considering the wonders of modernity. scientific and recovery calendars.

And for a player looking to make his way through the league, it couldn’t have suited Ojabo better. His high school teammate, Odafe Oweh, was selected in the first round of last year’s draft by the Ravens, and the team’s new defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald, was Ojabo’s defensive coordinator at Michigan.

As Ojabo told CNN Sport, he’s a “child of fate.”

“Everything that happens to me in this life is not me,” the 22-year-old said. “I’m just living my script.

“So where I was ‘supposed’ to go from is not my destiny. I’m supposed to go there obviously. What are the chances that coach Mike (Macdonald) all come in a year we go crazy in Michigan, winning the Big Ten and then, the next year, I go to the championship and I follow it.

“It’s not by accident. So I don’t have any worries in this life, man. I just live it day to day.”

So many things already accomplished by a young man who only started practicing this sport five years ago.

Ojabo poses for a portrait during the NFL Scouting Combine.
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Fate

Born in football-mad Nigeria, then seven-year-old Ojabo and his family moved to Scotland because of his father’s work as an engineer.

And it was in Britain that Ojabo flourished and discovered his love for sport. Along with his brother, he became proficient in both football and basketball.

Although his brother was the “main sportsman in the family” at a young age, Obajo is the one who takes athletics seriously enough to make a professional career out of it.

“Now (my brother) is smarter and I kind of took over,” he explained.

At the age of 15, Ojabo decided that to increase his chances of becoming an elite football or basketball player, he would move to the United States to enroll in high schools and colleges with programs. which could better promote its development.

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But despite his best-laid plans, his fate soon changed everything.

While running on the track at his high school, Blair Academy in New Jersey, Ojabo had a front row seat to watch his current Ravens teammate, Oweh, “explode” playing American football.

Oweh, who was a year above Ojabo, then committed to Penn State to play college football before eventually being drafted by the Ravens in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft with the 31st overall pick .

And so, in 2017, at the age of 17 – much later than most would – Ojabo tried his hand at American football.

The rest, they say, is history.

Ojabo celebrates after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship.

Adapt and thrive

Learning a new sport, especially a sport with so many differences from the ones he had grown up with, was difficult.

“I mean, the hardest thing is the contact first,” he said. “Almost every sport is different from football, hence the helmet. It’s one-on-one. So that was definitely the biggest transition for me.”

Although he had to learn a “whole new sport” with new rules and a “new style of play”, Ojabo took to it like a duck to water.

After his first year of high school football, Ojabo received 35 scholarship offers from colleges, including some of the most prestigious programs in the country. It was then a question of visiting the schools and selecting the one that would best meet their needs, both academically and athletically.

With the guidance of his family, Ojabo chose the University of Michigan. “We all know Michigan is the best school in the country,” he said. “And then of course the football team, playing for coach (Jim) Harbaugh and the biggest stadium in the country, you can’t really pass them up.”

Ojabo and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh embrace after a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Although he spent his freshman year in redshirt – the act of delaying participation to extend eligibility to compete at the college level – and was a reserve in 2020, when he had the opportunity to be a starter, he snatched it with both hands.

In a breakout 2021 season, playing across the defensive line to No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, Aidan Hutchinson, Ojabo showcased his explosive athleticism and skill, totaling 11 sacks and five fumbles forced as he put himself on the map as one of the nation’s top defensive prospects.

At the end of the season, he decided to declare himself for the draft to make the final leap to the NFL.

Ojabo recalled the project process – being scouted by teams and having project experts discussing his strengths and weaknesses – as being “definitely exciting” and “also humbling”.

“You know you’re part of that small percentile of people who are chosen and recognized to move on to the next level. So it’s been a blessing from the start,” he said.

But just as things were falling into place, disaster struck.

Ojabo rushes the quarterback against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Adversity

For Ojabo, Saturday March 19 was going as well as he could have imagined.

The linebacker, along with his Michigan Wolverines teammates, showcased their athletic and ball skills to NFL scouts and coaches gathered at the school’s pro day.

But, halfway through his training, while driving with the ball he had just caught, Ojabo collapsed to the ground, clutching his left ankle.

It was later confirmed that he tore his Achilles. Ojabo recalls being “shocked” by the first injury of his career.

Ojabo runs the 40-yard dash during the 2022 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

A few days later, Ojabo underwent surgery to repair the damage, but his future was now cloudy.

Initially, it was expected that he would be selected in the first round. But after this injury, it was more difficult to predict.

It was an agonizing first day of the draft as Ojabo was forced to wait. His phone was not ringing. He remembered sitting and waiting, “full of anxiety”.

But, on Friday, April 29, his phone finally rang. On the other end was Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, telling Ojabo that with the 45th pick in the draft, Baltimore would select him.

“There’s no feeling in this world that really compares: it’s your fate that’s just been decided in front of the whole world. Just feeling that phone vibrate, you see all those moments on YouTube all the time strong, but going through it myself was different. . It was a blessing.”

Reunited with his high school teammate, playing for his former college defensive coordinator and the older brother – John Harbaugh – of his college coach, Baltimore is like a second home to Ojabo.

Ojabo points to the Ravens logo after being drafted.

Despite his Achilles tendon injury, Ojabo will be hoping to make an impact in his rookie year as he aims to return at some point in the coming season. He cites Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers last season returning from a similar injury six months after sustaining it.

But, reflecting on his career so far, despite being a second-round NFL rookie, Ojabo said he was just getting started.

“I consider myself one of the only ones, fair in the way I play. At the end of the day, I’ve only been playing for five years. So I’m learning along the way and trying to understand.”

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