O’Leary: A summer of growth for OSU’s Amen Ogbongbemiga

When you sign your name to a letter of commitment to play NCAA football, you never really know what kind of journey you’re about to embark upon.

You can have an idea of what you might encounter, as Nigerian-born, Calgary-bred linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga did when he committed to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2015. You hope to grow as a football player, to find a major that helps put you on a path for a post-football life and to make that journey with teammates that will become friends that take you into the next phase of your life.

But there’s always a layer of the unknown that goes with these decisions. As with everything that’s taken place this year, the layers have grown and become exponentially more complicated.

For Ogbongbemiga, that took form in a transformational summer in his adopted home of Stillwater, Oklahoma.

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First there were the protests that came in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Ogbongbemiga was in the streets in Stillwater, protesting with members of the Cowboys in late May. By early June, he revealed that he’d tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-June, the Cowboys were back in the news when star running back and fellow Canadian Chuba Hubbard called out the team’s coach, Mike Gundy, for wearing a t-shirt that promoted a far right wing cable news network.

Hubbard threatened to not take part in team workouts until things changed with the program. Ogbongbemiga supported his teammate and a few days later, Gundy had a lengthy conversation with Hubbard, recanted and pledged his support to Black Lives Matter and the equality issues that many of his players were protesting for.

“Everything happens for a reason and it’s probably for the better with me getting the virus in the first wave of college students,” Ogbongbemiga said on a conference call with Canadian media.

“It’s benefited me because now it’s not on my mind anymore. I still take my precautions and everything but I’m not too worried about missing games.

“(With) everything that happened in regards to the social justice issues, it all happened for a reason. It made OSU a better place. We’ve moved forward, we’re closer than I’ve ever seen. It kind of broke barriers that were there before.

“Me and my teammates, we’ve really taken a step forward and shown what we’re really capable of and how closely knitted we are. We’re going to get clicking real soon, I can feel it. Everything’s going to come together. We can be the strongest team that I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”

A six-foot-one, 235-pound red shirt senior, a starter and a captain on the 2019 Cowboys team, Ogbongbemiga’s vision for his team is taking form in 2020. The Cowboys are 3-0, after going on the road and trouncing Kansas 47-7. The win jumped them up seven spots to No. 10 in the AP’s weekly Top-25 poll. Hubbard got on track with a 145-yard, two-touchdown game on the ground and on the defensive side of the ball, Ogbongbemiga led the Cowboys with five total tackles and a shared sack.

As he settles into his final season of college football, Ogbongbemiga is showing why the CFL’s Scouting Bureau had him ranked second in its fall listings.

“It’s an honour,” he said of the ranking.

“My high school coach always told me by playing in the NCAA that propels you further than anybody else. I just kind of brushed it off, I didn’t try to pay too much attention to it because I still had to play all my years and do what I have to do. That’s on me and I’m thankful for being in the position that I’m in.”

The Ogbongbemiga family first settled in Houston in 2003 after leaving Nigeria, but came to Calgary in 2011 with hopes of gaining citizenship in Canada, which they eventually all did. Amen’s older brother, Alex, was on the University of Houston’s football team to start his college career but transferred to the University of Calgary and spent three years with the Dinos before playing parts of the 2016 and 2017 seasons in Edmonton, Saskatchewan and BC.

Amen watched his brother’s career unfold while thriving at Notre Dame High School in Calgary. Through four years with the Cowboys, he’s worked his way up through special teams and solidified his spot on the roster with a 2019 season that saw him make 100 tackles (second on the team) and five sacks (a team-high) and be named the Cowboys’ defensive MVP.

“A lot of dudes are one-hit wonders. I’ve never let that get to my head, having one good season and forgetting. I have to keep building to keep improving.”

Amen Ogbongbemiga on building off of his strong junior season

His goal at this point is to be playing in the NFL in 2021 and while he’s projected to be a later pick at the start of a year that will see names fly up and down draft boards, he said he wants to play at the highest level that he can. To do that, he’ll have to improve on a season that has perked the ears of pro scouts on both sides of the border.

“Consistency is key, man,” he said.

“A lot of dudes are one-hit wonders. I’ve never let that get to my head, having one good season and forgetting. I have to keep building to keep improving. Everybody likes to see new milestones.

“I always want to be consistent but if not consistent improvement, I don’t ever want to regress in anything I do. So it’s always been on my mind, to just keep working hard and keep improving, to take my game to the next level.”