Ogemdi Nwagbuo: Finding His Place at Michigan State
Sept. 5, 2007
By Josh Rattray, MSU Sports Information Intern
A little snow wasn't going to keep Ogemdi Nwagbuo (pronounced: oh-GIM-dee new-WOW-bo) from becoming a Michigan State Spartan. Having grown up in San Diego, Calif., Nwagbuo wasn't likely to do any cross-country skiing when he made his recruiting trip to East Lansing in the winter of 2005.
"Living in San Diego, that was the first time I had ever seen snow," Nwagbuo recalls with a laugh. "I liked everything here, but being in the cold was the complete opposite to what I was used to in California. I wasn't used to that. I didn't own any pants because I wore shorts all the time."
But after buying a few jackets and adding some winter clothes to his wardrobe, the 6-4, 290-pound Nwagbuo (affectionately known at MSU as "O.G.") made an immediate impact on the Spartans' defensive line. After enrolling at MSU in January of 2006, Nwagbuo took part in team activities and was penciled in as the starting nose tackle. He started the first six games last year, helping anchor a defense that held its first two opponents to 2.4 yards per carry.
That was just the beginning. Against Illinois last season, Nwagbuo collected four tackles and he added three stops the next week vs. Michigan. Nwagbuo had his best game as a Spartan in the season finale against Penn State, making six tackles, including 1.5 for loss, while also forcing a fumble.
Nwagbuo, however, says that was nothing. Under new head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and defensive line coach Ted Gill, Nwagbuo looks to get even better in his final season at MSU.
"Coach Narduzzi and Coach Gill are great coaches to play for," Nwagbuo says. "I feel like I'm 10 times better than I was last year because Coach Gill makes you focus more on smaller things, like technique. He doesn't accept anything less than excellence, and that's why I'm playing better under Coach Gill."
"O.G.'s done a great job, going back to spring ball," Narduzzi says. "He's come a long way and that shows what kind of a coach Ted Gill is. O.G.'s been a dominant player for us this fall in camp and we expect big things from him this season."
Yet, it wasn't long ago that Nwagbuo's chances of being a Spartan - or even a college football player - were slim. As a boy in California, Nwagbuo dreamed of making baskets rather than tackles.
"Basketball was my favorite sport growing up," Nwagbuo says. "I played a lot of basketball and wanted to be a basketball player."
In fact, Nwagbuo spent just three snaps on a high school football field. While playing football as a junior at Mt. Miguel High School in Spring Valley, Calif., Nwagbuo moved and was later ruled ineligible to play as a senior by the California Interscholastic Federation. After graduating from high school with just three plays of football-playing experience, Nwagbuo enrolled at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif. It was during a weightlifting session that his football career began.
"I went to the school and I just started lifting weights with the football team," Nwagbuo recalls. "The coach saw me and asked me to play. I went with my friend, and he was the one who kind of got me out there playing."
In addition, his basketball background was what helped him get on the football field. According to Southwestern College defensive coordinator Justin Schaeffer, the football coaching staff at Southwestern recruited Nwagbuo on a tip from his old basketball coach.
"His high school basketball coach called us and said he had a kid that was big and athletic," Schaeffer said. "We didn't really recruit him that heavily. His school didn't have a lot of big athletes, and we didn't have any film on him. He ended up with us and he picked up football really quickly. He turned into one heck of a player."
Nwagbuo played two successful seasons at Southwestern College, recording 100 tackles and 15 sacks, and went on to earn second-team All-Foothill Conference honors in 2005.
On a trip home to California this spring, Nwagbuo stopped by and visited his Southwestern buddies and gave the current football team some words of encouragement.
"We asked him to say a few words to our kids and it was great," Schaeffer said. "A lot of the kids have the misconception that you can have two good years here and go play Division I football. Most don't understand what it takes to get to the next level. We had him talk about the academic side and he helped them understand that they have to get in the classroom and do well no matter how well they play."
Heading into his senior season, Nwagbuo is looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of a revival for Spartan football. Under Dantonio and his defensive staff, Nwagbuo has dropped hoops in favor of dropping quarterbacks.
"Coach Narduzzi really stresses upon us to swarm the football," Nwagbuo said. "It's not that we weren't doing that before, but this year the coaches really have us focusing on swarming to the ball on defense and making plays.
"We're coming together. Last year is in the past, and we've learned from it. It's a fresh start for us right now. We're ready to do big things."
And Nwagbuo will do big things on the defensive line, even if it does snow just a little.
Feature originally published in Spartan Sports Zone Magazine vs. UAB
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