Becoming a Saint, via Nigeria and Winnipeg
Onyemata making impact with New Orleans after unconventional path to NFL
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.”
New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata has come a long way to the NFL.