Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah enjoyed meeting Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and the defensive staff last week during his visit to Charlotte.
He liked learning more about the Panthers’ scheme.
Ogbah, a popular choice for the Panthers with the 30th pick in many mock drafts, was pumped about talking with Rivera and Co. about how he might fit in Carolina’s 4-3 defense.
“I felt good about the Panthers. They run the same thing I did in college,” Ogbah said during a phone conversation. “So it wouldn’t be much of a transition if I went to play for the Panthers.”
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Ogbah, whose family moved from Nigeria to Houston when he was 9, has been through enough change in his life. He wants the college-to-NFL transition to go as smoothly as possible.
Ogbah (6-4, 273 pounds) excelled as an edge rusher in the Cowboys’ four-man front, leading the Big 12 with 13 sacks in 2015 on his way to being named the conference’s defensive player of the year.
Ogbah had a good combine showing, with a 4.56-second clocking in the 40 that was tied for second among defensive linemen. His 10-yard split of 1.56 seconds was the fastest at his position.
Combine those measurables with Ogbah’s reputation as a good citizen and you have an intriguing prospect for a team looking for a pass-rushing defensive end.
So why is Ogbah expected to be available when the Panthers are on the clock with the penultimate pick in the first round?
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper says Ogbah’s technique could use polishing.
“He needs to develop a counter move, a secondary (pass rush) move. A defensive line coach would love to be able to work with a kid that’s got great work ethic, great passion for the game, hard worker and all the skill that you need.
“In Ogbah’s case, with the right defensive line coach that can teach him and develop his talent as a late-first round pick – which is where I think he’ll go – he would make an awful lot of sense.”
Could be there already
Ogbah’s defensive line coach at Oklahoma State says Ogbah has other moves besides his speed rush. He just didn’t need them.
“When the one you have leads the Big 12 in sacks and (is good for) top five in the nation, it’s hard to go to the second and third moves,” said Joe Bob Clements, Ogbah’s position coach with the Cowboys.
Ogbah was the NCAA’s active sacks leader with 28 at the end of last season. His 13 sacks as a redshirt junior were second behind only Penn State’s Carl Nassib (15) last fall.
Ogbah is Oklahoma State’s career leader with quarterback hurries (26) and finished fourth in sacks and tackles for loss (40).
He had at least one sack in 16 of his final 21 collegiate games. The stretch included a two-sack performance against Florida State’s Jameis Winston in the 2014 opener, Winston’s first game after winning the Heisman Trophy.
“I just knew that was the game I had to go out there and shine. I became another person that game because I wanted to get to the Heisman Trophy winner,” Ogbah said. “I really had three sacks but one of my teammates got a penalty so one of them got called back.”
The trip from Nigeria
Ogbah’s family came to the U.S. 13 years ago in search of a better life. His father gave up a job as a bank manager in Lagos and started over at 40, working at night as a security guard while taking classes during the day.
He’s now a technician for an oil company in Houston, and his mom is a substitute teacher.
Ogbah (pronounced AWG-buh) started playing football in middle school in part because he’d watched his older brother get picked on while struggling to learn a game that was not part of their childhood in Nigeria.
Ogbah went on to play at George Bush High in Houston. Though he never met the former president, Ogbah became familiar with Russell Okung, the Seattle Seahawks left tackle who preceded him at George Bush and Oklahoma State.
“He’s been a good mentor,” Ogbah said of Okung, who also is of Nigerian descent.
As far as preparing for the draft, Ogbah said Okung told him: “Just keep working my hardest, control what you can control and pray.”
Finishing his business degree
Rather than leave school for his pre-combine training, Ogbah stayed in Stillwater to take the 15 hours he needed to finish his business degree.
The phrase “work ethic” gets thrown around a lot in the weeks leading to the draft to describe players who either embrace or are adverse to weight lifting, two-hour practices and run-’til-you-drop conditioning sessions.
Clements says Ogbah has an appreciation of what it means to work on a craft after watching his dad start from scratch in the U.S. Clements says Ogbah improved all four years he was on campus.
“I’ve coached a lot of good football players and he is by far the best I’ve ever coached,” Clements said. “A lot of young men run away from adversity and he doesn’t. He takes it head-on. Every phase that we went into, he was a better football player than he was the phase before.”
Earlier in his career Clements was at San Diego State while Rivera was the Chargers defensive coordinator. Clements visited several Chargers’ practices and came away impressed with Rivera’s disciplined and professional approach.
Clements remembers Rivera being tough, but approachable and fair. Clements believes his former player would be a good pick for the Panthers – from a scheme background and otherwise.
Said Clements: “Emmanuel Ogbah would fit perfect with (Rivera’s) personality if that’s still the way he runs his program.”