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The Right Move

October 16, 2013
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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THE RIGHT MOVE

Ogbuehi’s switch to tackle solidifies stout Aggie offensive line

by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine

From his home just north of Dallas, Chris Ogbuehi chuckles at the memory of when his second son first approached him about playing football—the popular American contact sport, not the international version played traditionally with a round, black-and-white ball.

The Nigerian-born Ogbuehi (pronounced “oh-BWAY-hee”) first arrived in the United States as a college student in 1985, and he’d seen enough bits and pieces of televised football games to at least know what his fifth-grade son, Cedric, was referring to when he mentioned to his father in the fall of 2002 that he wanted to play.

“I was OK with Cedric playing football and signing him up to play, but honestly, I really didn’t know much about football,” Ogbuehi recounted in a thick accent. “Coming from Nigeria, I’d grown up playing soccer and watching soccer. But I was for him playing a recreational sport of some sort. Looking back on it, his decision turned out to be a very good one. We just tried to be supportive of that decision.”

Flash forward six years to a time when Cedric Ogbuehi, as a junior at Allen High School, was being recruited by a number of college football programs, including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Texas A&M.

The younger Ogbuehi eventually decided to commit to play in College Station. His parents had vaguely heard of Texas A&M at the time, but they didn’t initially know anything about the traditions, the culture or even the location of Aggieland. Nevertheless, they were once again “OK” with Cedric’s decision.

“We didn’t know anything about Texas A&M before they started recruiting him,” Chris Ogbuehi acknowledged. “But he made the final decision to go to A&M on his own, and we supported him. Looking back, we think he made another very good decision. His mother, his sisters and me are still learning about Texas A&M and, really, we are still learning about (the specific details) of football. We are certainly not experts on the game, and we probably don’t know as much as many of the other people in the stands.

“But we know enough to figure out what’s going on. And we know that Cedric is doing well and enjoying himself. We’re very proud of him, and it appears that Texas A&M is pleased to have him there, as well.”

"I plan to come back next season and make the move to left tackle for my senior year (and) go as high as possible (in the draft). It would show all the young linemen out there what can happen if you come to Texas A&M."

- Cedric Ogbuehi

There’s absolutely no doubt about that. Ogbuehi is one of the key and most versatile components of what has been—over the course of the 2012 season and the first part of 2013 season—perhaps the most effective/dominant offensive line in Texas A&M history. Ogbuehi started all 13 games last season at guard, helping the A&M offense outscore opponents nearly 2-to-1, lead the SEC in rushing, passing, scoring and total offense and rank third nationally in total offense and scoring offense.

Ogbuehi has made a seamless transition this year from guard to right tackle, and he has played a huge role in the Aggies’ high-powered offense, which once again ranks among the national top 10 in passing, scoring and total offense. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Ogbuehi started his 24th consecutive game in a row on Oct. 12 at Ole Miss, and he appears to be making progress with each game.

“The biggest compliment you can give an offensive lineman is if you haven’t noticed them,” A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. If you notice him, then you’ve got some problems. (Ogbuehi is) a natural tackle. He played guard last year because we tried to get our best five guys on the field. He’s athletic. He’s long. He’s 300 pounds. He’s a really good player. It took some time in the spring to know that he was in space and didn’t have help on either side. He’s a smart guy. He faired pretty well against excellent competition (against Alabama), and I look for him to continue to get better.”

A&M coaches, players and fans are so optimistic about junior Cedric Ogbuehi’s future as an offensive lineman in Aggieland that they are keeping their fingers crossed in hopes that Ogbuehi will continue improving this year and then return for his senior season in 2014.

The good news for A&M is that Ogbuehi says he is definitely leaning that way.

Last year’s A&M starter at left tackle, Luke Joeckel, became the first A&M player to ever win the Outland Trophy and was the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. This season’s starter at left tackle for the Aggies is senior Jake Matthews, a leading candidate to win the Outland who was projected as the No. 6 overall pick in a Sept. 24 mock draft by Sports Illustrated. Matthews was also projected as the No. 4 overall player in the 2014 NFL Draft by CBSSports.com.

In that same assessment by CBSSports.com, Ogbuehi was rated as the ninth best offensive tackle prospect in the 2014 draft (if he chose to leave school early) and the No. 57 overall player in the draft. Most projections have Ogbuehi going in the second round of this year’s draft if he leaves early. But Ogbuehi says that instead of taking second-round money, he’d like to become part of a new tradition at A&M that includes an offensive lineman from Aggieland winning the Outland and being selected among the top 10 players in the draft.

“I plan to come back next season and make the move to left tackle for my senior year,” said the 21-year-old Ogbuehi, a recreation, parks and tourism sciences major. “That’s my future position, so I want to do like Jake did and come back and play left tackle. I’d love to be a part of something like what Luke did and what Jake has a chance to do.

“I would like to go as high as possible (in the draft). That would be a great thing for A&M and the future recruiting, too. It would show all the young linemen out there what can happen if you come to Texas A&M. It was also really cool to see Luke win the Outland. Hopefully, Jake gets that award this year and, of course, I’d love to have that chance as a senior. That would be cool for A&M.”

It would also be unprecedented in Outland Trophy history. Only one time since the award was first given in 1946 has one school produced three consecutive winners (Nebraska in 1981-83 with Dave Rimington winning twice and Dean Steinkuhler once). But no school has ever produced three different winners in three consecutive years.

That’s at least a possibility for A&M if Ogbuehi does, indeed, return for his senior season and he continues to make the impressive strides of improvement that have marked his tenure in Aggieland.

Like his family members, Ogbuehi says he is just now learning some of the finer points of the game, especially when it come to tactical maneuvers at tackle. He played on the defensive line in his first two years at Allen High School, and he was so lean when he first came to A&M that most of his new teammates assumed he was a tight end…or possibly even a wide receiver.

Ogbuehi believes he is just now tapping into his potential as an offensive lineman and just scratching the surface of his overall physical/fitness development. While he earned plenty of all-state honors and recognition in high school, Ogbuehi says he was practically a football novice when he arrived in College Station in 2010.

“Looking back now at high school, I had so much to learn about the game,” Ogbuehi said. “I feel like I wasn’t really that good until I got here. That redshirt year (in 2010) helped me a lot. I knew I wasn’t ready to play at this level right away. But honestly, I really feel like this past year was when I got to be so much better. I think I am developing as a player. Right now is the best I have ever been. I feel confident in my abilities and what I am supposed to do. Coach (Larry) Jackson’s (strength and conditioning) program has really helped me a lot, too. I am getting better, but I had a long way to go.”

Figuratively, Cedric Ogbuehi has certainly come a long way to reach this point in his career. In that regard, he has followed in the footsteps of his parents, who once traveled all the way from West Africa to North Dallas to make a better life for themselves and their children.




THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Chris Ogbuehi left his home in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1985, following several of his friends to the United States to pursue educational opportunities. Ogbuehi, who married his wife, Kelly, before he left for the U.S., initially landed in Lafayette, La., where he attended school for one year at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

He moved to Dallas the following year, where he eventually earned his degree in accounting from UT-Dallas. Because of visa issues and difficulties, however, Kelly and Chris had to maintain a significantly “long distance” relationship, as she was not able to join him in the U.S. until early in 1990.

Kelly then began attending nursing school, and the couple had their first son, C.J., and decided to plant some long-term roots in the Dallas area. Two years later, in late-April 1992, Kelly gave birth to the couple’s second son, Cedric.

In the midst of building a family (Cedric also has two younger sisters), Chris and Kelly also began making plans to build a business. Today, they oversee the operation of Genesis Career Institute in Richardson, where they train certified nurse assistants.

Sports were never a major family priority, Cedric says. But both he and his older brother gravitated toward playing them because their public school classmates in Allen were so involved in the youth athletic programs.

"We have all fallen in love with Texas A&M. I’m a very proud dad. He’s made me proud; he’s making his mother proud; and he’s making the Nigerian community proud."

- Chris Ogbuehi, Cedric's father

“Allen is a big sports town, especially in terms of high school football,” Cedric said. “I went to games growing up. I played basketball in fourth grade, and then I tried football in fifth grade. My parents just wanted me and my brother to try different things. My older brother, C.J., is two years older, and he played basketball through high school. Then he changed to football in college, (playing tight end at Tyler Junior College and then at Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, La).”

Unlike his older brother, Cedric played football throughout his prep career at Allen. But early in his high school career, it would have been extremely difficult for anyone to imagine that Ogbuehi would ever be a big-time offensive lineman at a major college football program.

“When he was a sophomore at Allen, he was small and everybody picked on him,” former A&M wide receiver and former Allen High star Uzoma Nwachukwu said last year at an A&M press conference. “He was just this little guy (who) was asking for rides, and we’d be like, ‘Man, get out of here, Cedric.’”

Soon thereafter, the “little guy” began to develop big-time. He grew so quickly and developed so rapidly as an offensive lineman that he began pondering the possibility of playing college football at a major university. With no family ties to any school in the region, Ogbuehi began thinking about going to the University of Texas.

And he acknowledges that he would have been a Longhorn…if Texas would have recruited him.

“I wanted to go to UT, but they didn’t recruit me,” Ogbuehi said with a sarcastic smile. “(Allen High products) Steven  (Terrell) and EZ (Uzoma Nwachukwu) were already here, which led me to A&M. My recruiter was (former A&M assistant coach Randy) Jordan, and he was a cool guy. I liked the atmosphere here, too, but the fact that a couple of guys I already knew were here was a big deal for me. I’d say Steven really helped recruit me. Some other schools recruited me, too. Probably the biggest schools were OU and OSU, but I committed pretty early to A&M.

“I am really happy A&M offered me and Texas didn’t because I would be there now. Johnny (Manziel) has told me the same thing, that if they would have offered him, he would have been there, too. We’re both glad we are here instead.”

Ogbuehi was part of the same remarkable offensive line recruiting class in February 2010 that also included Joeckel and Matthews. But unlike those two advanced prospects, Ogbuehi says he knew he needed to be redshirted.

“When I got here, I was weighing about 265, but I probably looked like I weighed 215,” Ogbuehi said. “People thought I was a tight end, maybe even a receiver. Most people thought I was a tight end. I probably have the hands to play receiver, but my speed would not have cut it. I am faster now than when I first got here. I run a 4.8 now.

“I could tell pretty early that I was a part of a really good group of offensive linemen. Obviously, Luke and Jake played right away. And then my redshirt freshman year Shep (Klinke) was starting and Jarvis (Harrison) and me were competing. Garrett Gramling is a good player, too. I just knew that there were bunch of good players in that class. We have pushed each other. It’s weird how that all worked out, with so many offensive linemen committing, but it did work out for us. I am just thankful how things have fallen into place.”

If things continue to fall into place in the way that Ogbuehi envisions, the best is still yet to come for him and the Aggies. He knows he is quite capable of making the leap to the NFL as soon as this spring, but he has bigger goals than merely going to some team with some second-round pick.

And his father is fully supportive of his son if Ogbuehi does decide to come back for his senior year in 2014. After all, Chris Ogbuehi readily admits he and his family are having a blast watching Cedric play at A&M.

“We try to make all of the home games,” Chris Ogbuehi said. “We really enjoy coming to games at Kyle Field. My wife, daughters and I all really like the marching band, the crowds and the tailgating. It is so much fun, and coming there is so different from watching a game on television. It is so much better to be there in person.

“We have all fallen in love with Texas A&M. I’m a very proud dad. He’s made me proud; he’s making his mother proud; and he’s making the Nigerian community proud. We are all excited about his performance and what he is doing at Texas A&M.”



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