Be­com­ing a Saint, via Nige­ria and Win­nipeg

Onye­mata mak­ing im­pact with New Or­leans after un­con­ven­tional path to NFL

Waterloo Region Record - - Sports - CUR­TIS WITHERS

David Onye­mata hadn’t played a sin­gle down of foot­ball when he ar­rived at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba in 2011. More in­ter­ested in quar­terly re­ports than quar­ter­back blitzes, Onye­mata orig­i­nally came to Win­nipeg from Nige­ria to pur­sue an eco­nomics de­gree.

Seven years later, Onye­mata, 26, is mak­ing key con­tri­bu­tions to a New Or­leans Saints team with de­signs on a Su­per Bowl ti­tle. The de­fen­sive line­man starred in a na­tion­ally tele­vised NFL game last Thurs­day night, rack­ing up three sacks against the Dal­las Cow­boys.

Onye­mata’s jour­ney from his na­tive Nige­ria to the NFL, by way of U Sports’ Man­i­toba Bisons, is one of the league’s most unique sto­ries, one that would have played out much dif­fer­ently had he not had the con­fi­dence to show up in per­son to Bisons head coach Brian Do­bie’s of­fice to ask for a try­out. Onye­mata went on to have an out­stand­ing ca­reer with the Bisons and was named the top line­man in Cana­dian univer­sity foot­ball in 2016. It was a feat made more im­pres­sive by the fact that Onye­mata had to start from scratch learn­ing foot­ball’s myr­iad com­plex­i­ties.

Onye­mata grad­u­ated from Man­i­toba with an en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence de­gree after switch­ing his aca­demic fo­cus, but by then his pro foot­ball op­tions were look­ing bright. He was the top-ranked prospect for the 2016 CFL draft, but the Saints had their eye on Onye­mata after he im­pressed at that year’s East-West Shrine Game, an all-star game for col­lege se­niors. New Or­leans traded up to pick Onye­mata in the fourth round, 120th over­all, in 2016, mak­ing him the first Bi­son ever taken in the NFL draft.

Most Cana­di­ans who get drafted come out of Amer­i­can pro­grams, and Onye­mata said tak­ing the U Sports road to a pro ca­reer south of the bor­der is tough.

“It’s not the eas­i­est en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “You don’t have all the nice things you have out here. You’ve still got to work dur­ing the sum­mer time, you still have to work dur­ing school.

“So it’s your work ethic, and just play the game. En­joy the game. Just go out there and show what you have.”

MARK HUMPHREY THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

New Or­leans Saints de­fen­sive tackle David Onye­mata has come a long way to the NFL.

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