Former Pride linebacker making his mark in NCAA
Amen Ogbongbemiga has always dreamt big.
Like Nfl-or-bust big.
But to reach such a lofty goal, the kid from Calgary has had to learn how to bide his time and find his way through the football ranks.
“I always reach for the highest goals,” Ogbongbemiga said. “I never want to settle.”
And so he hasn’t, giving it his all to become one the top linebackers in the NCAA.
Proof of that is in the honour of being named one of five finalists for the Jon Cornish Award, given annually to the top Canadian in U.S. college football.
“It’s a blessing,” said Ogbongbemiga, who was a high school star in Calgary with the renowned Notre Dame Pride. “It’s something that you work for. I don’t really pay attention to a lot of that stuff, but it’s always a great honour to be recognized for the things I do.
“But at the end of the day, it’s with the help of my teammates around me and my coaches.”
Ogbongbemiga, a linebacker with the Oklahoma State Cowboys, is the only junior among the 2019 nominees — a class that includes teammate Chuba Hubbard.
The sophomore Hubbard, a running back out of Sherwood Park, Alta., is expected to run away with the votes for the Cornish award, wresting it away from defending two-time winner Nathan Rourke, a quarterback from Oakville, Ont., with the Ohio Bobcats, and fellow seniors Chase Claypool, a receiver out of Abbotsford, B.C., with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Neville Gallimore, a defensive tackle from Ottawa with the Oklahoma Sooners.
And Ogbongbemiga forecasts that, as well, saying after “a phenomenal year, Chuba deserves it.”
But that doesn’t diminish what Ogbongbemiga brought to the field in 2019.
“Ogbongbemiga has developed as a top sideline-to-sideline linebacker with outstanding speed with the ability to pursue in the open field,” according to the award’s voting bloc, which is comprised of a panel of journalists, CFL front-office staff and other football gurus.
As a defensive team captain and redshirt junior, Ogbongbemiga was the recipient of Oklahoma State’s Leslie O’neal Award as the team’s defensive MVP.
He was a second-team all-big 12 selection by the coaches, ranked second on the team and sixth in the Big 12 Conference with 100 tackles and ranked fifth in the conference with 15.5 tackles for loss.
To boot, the 21-year-old Ogbongbemiga is a three-time firstteam Big 12 academic selection.
“It was crazy,” Ogbongbemiga said. “When the year started, I kind of knew my role was going to increase, but you never know what’s going to actually happen. Nothing is never handed to you, so I had to work for it and compete. Some people they can come in and play as a freshman — that’s probably everybody’s dream. But for others, you’ve got to wait your turn and work toward it. You can’t just walk in and expect it to be handed to you.
“So you have to accept your role on the team — like on special teams or just getting a couple of snaps a game — and make the most of it. That’s kind of what I did from Day 1 — accept my role and try to maximize everything. I just took advantage of every single opportunity I had.
“It was good to see my efforts pay off.”
He is being seen, all right.
Just as his voice is being heard in Stillwater, Okla.
“I bring people together on the team,” said Ogbongbemiga. “I can co-ordinate a lot of stuff. If things aren’t going well, I can be the person to calm the situation and get everybody’s heads back level. … I kind of grew doing that.
“You have to earn that position to do that — you can’t do that as a freshman, really, because people don’t know your voice. But as years go by, you can try to earn that respect from people, and that’s something that I take pride in doing.”