Imagine making the following stops to realize your dreams: Chicago. Nigeria. St. Viator High School. East Coast Prep. City College of San Francisco. Iowa State. Central Michigan.
To many, those are just places on a map but to Oge Udeogu that is his life. It is the journey that created a man designed to face and conquer obstacles. It is a journey that makes most people wonder how he is even still chasing his dreams. It is a journey that has granted Udeogu the experiences of a lifetime but also handed him some of his toughest times as well. However, to understand it all, we must go back to the beginning.
Oge Udeogu’s father, Raphael, came to America when he was 18 from Nigeria. Raphael earned an engineering degree and used that degree to get a job with Motorola. It was with Motorola that Raphael established a career and began a family in the Chicago area. Besides Oge, there are three other Udeogu boys: Ugo (played football at Butler), Chinedu (plays football for Cal) and Nnamdi (6ft4 Freshman at Georgetown Prep in Washington, D.C.).
Now, this is where it all begins to take an unusual football twist.
Udeogu and his family moved from Illinois to Nigeria when he finished the 1st Grade, as his father was relocated by Motorola.
“It’s funny because you would think I am going back to where I am from, right? We used to go back every year for Christmas, but when we really got there it was an adjustment,” Udeogu said about transitioning from life in America to Nigeria.
However, the constant while in Nigeria for the Udeogu brothers was competition. Growing up he played basketball, soccer, volleyball and competed in track. It did not take long for him to notice he was different from the other children with his physical gifts. Those physical gifts took him down a basketball path with an original goal of playing in the NBA.
In fact, when he came back to the Chicago area at the age of 16 the plan was for him to earn a basketball scholarship.
When Udeogu arrived at St. Viator High School, in Arlington Heights, IL, he was a slam-dunking 6ft3 and 285-pound teenager with tremendous raw athletic ability.
“Yeah, I was a hooper. I was pretty good, man. I was going to play basketball and try to go to college for basketball. But I was only 6’3” and when I got to America I wasn’t the biggest kid anymore. It is just as far as college, guys range from 6’7-6’10,” stated Udeogu upon realizing college basketball probably wasn’t going to be his ticket due to his size. Fortunately for him, that pain was short-lived though.
“It was cool, the football coach actually came and sat in and was like you got to play football, and as far as career-wise that’s definitely a better route for me to take,” recalls Udeogu on his first formal encounter with American football
It did not take long for Udeogu to establish himself as a high-level player. In two-years of high school football, he transitioned into a 3-Star recruit and showed flashes of brilliance that made college coaches fall in love with his film. This love of his film translated into coaches stopping by his school every day, and it was with those visits that he began to think about a football as a long-term option.
“When I was sitting in class and every day it would be a ‘Hey, there’s this coach here to see you’ and every day it was a different school; that’s when I was like wait, if they’re all coming to see me, you know, I might actually have a future in this. I thought I was good, I thought I was better than the other people playing physically, but I knew they had technique over me,” is how Udeogu recalls the moment he knew that making the switch to football was the right choice.
So, you would think with colleges pouring in from the Big Ten, Big 12 and all over the country that the scholarships would be soon to follow right?
Well, they never came. Udeogu would not qualify and not for the traditional reasons one might immediately think. When converting his courses from Nigeria to meet NCAA eligibility requirements it was uncovered that he was not going to qualify. This is because there are different course requirements in Nigeria and Udeogu was informed he did not have enough credits. This was a blow to Udeogu because of all the work he put towards his goal of being a football player.
How seriously, did Udeogu take football? What type of work did he put in?
After the first day of practice, he went to GameStop and purchased a copy of a Madden NFL video game. He went on to play the video game until about 4:30 am; just learning as much as he could. Udeogu played as many games as he could that night and googled all of the penalties as they came up, and that is how Udeogu learned football through video games. He studied through the video game because Udeogu did not want the coaches to have to take time to teach him the basic rules of the game, but rather allowing the coaching staff to spend a majority of time on technique and execution in practice. Udeogu took pride in learning the game of football and began watching football games not for entertainment but as an extra opportunity to study offensive and defensive line play.
When I asked Udeogu how he benefitted from film study in those early days he said, “[I] Watched what the right guard is doing, what this O-line is doing and what the scheme they’re running. You know what I mean and really dissect. Grasping offenses, grasping the game. I really like that aspect of the game.”
So, with such a meteoric rise in two seasons, Udeogu took the proper next steps to gain eligibility. There was a stop at East Coast Prep after St. Viator High School which set up his chance to shine at the City College of San Francisco.
However, his time at the City College of San Francisco was not like what we see on Netflix. Udeogu told me how junior college football in California is non-scholarship meaning there is no housing, meals or other amenities provided to the student-athletes like at scholarship programs; which is what we see on Netflix. Udeogu recalled how he lived in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco with four teammates and sometimes it was six.
As much as one might think it would make him crazy Udeogu says the exact opposite. Udeogu talks in great lengths of how going through the hard times in San Francisco, both on and off the field, helped shape him as it was another obstacle in his way. It was also during this time Udeogu met Julia Peters; an All-American Water Polo player and longtime girlfriend. Udeogu was overcome with joy when he was able to recall the times he and Peters have had along the way as she has been with him every step of the way since they met in the Bay Area.
You see it is in these obstacles that Udeogu’s personality shines. He recalls the tough times and difficulties with a cool, confident demeanor speaking in a matter of fact tone signaling this is a man wise beyond his years.
Udeogu told me how in that first year at the City College of San Francisco there were times when, emotionally, you were pushing your limit and there was an apartment full of teammates going through the same thing as you. He says in these struggles a brotherhood was formed en route to a Junior College National Championship. Udeogu spoke highly of his junior college experience and teammates which included Anthony Gordon (Washington State, QB), Easop Winston (Washington State, WR) and Michael Sleep-Dalton (Iowa, P).
After dominating at the City College of San Francisco, Udeogu transferred to Iowa State in 2016 when he took a redshirt year. In 2017, Udeogu experienced a season-ending injury before the season began. 2018 was another redshirt year as his arm was not fully healed in time for the start of the season and signaled the end of his time as a member of the Iowa State Cyclones program, as he would explore his graduate transfer options; if granted an additional year of eligibility due to the injuries he sustained. He was granted the additional year and looked at a few programs but ultimately decided to attend Central Michigan.
When asked what were the deciding factors in his decision Udeogu cited the coaching staff at Central Michigan. Udeogu mentioned three coaches by name: 1. Mike Cummings is the OL Coach at Central Michigan and coached Eric Fisher, starting LT for the Kansas City Chiefs and former number one overall pick. 2. Jim McElwain is a well-respected coach that has produced more than his fair share of NFL talent having coached at Florida and Colorado State amongst other notable colleges. 3. Charlie Frye serves as the offensive coordinator and is a former NFL QB.
Uedogu said the reputation of the coaching staff and the chance for them to fully prepare him for the NFL was a big factor; along with RB Jonathan Ward. Ward has been on the NFL radar for a while and Udeogu knew playing with an NFL caliber back would give him the ability to possibly catch the eye of an NFL coach, scout or GM.
And he has plenty of good film to show in that one season. Udeogu started 12 games at guard and paved the way for not one but two 1,000 yard rushers this season. Udeogu shows how dominant he is in the run game numerous times this season, but the one that stands out to me is a play in the Bowling Green/ Central Michigan game from 10/19/2019. On this play, Udeogu pulls from his RG position leading the RB through the left side ‘B Gap’. Udeogu keeps his body in good position as he leaves his initial spot on the right side, gets square to the line quickly showing confidence in the ‘skip pull’ technique. Udeogu finishes the play by making strong initial contact on the LB, gets inside hand position and accelerates on contact pancaking the defender about 10-15 yards downfield which created a huge run lane on this play resulting in nice positive yardage gained. And that is not to ignore his pass blocking skills either. Udeogu did not give up a sack all season; proving he is a complete package at the guard position.
There is one last obstacle Udeogu has had to overcome. His parents, Raphael and Mary, are still in Nigeria while he and his brothers chase their dreams in America. Udeogu says it is very similar to when his father came to America at a young age. However, while he and his brothers are in America they have never all lived with each other in America. Udeogu said that they use technology to their benefit and stay in contact with a family and brothers group text conversation.
Udeogu responded with the following when asked how he would recall or summarize his personal and football growth and experiences since arriving at St. Viator High School:
“So, yeah, I went from a kid who was learning the game of football, to loving the game of football, to a kid who has got a pretty big chip on their shoulder, and I was told by a couple of people I wasn’t good enough. And I think that’s my biggest driving factor. But, also, to prove to myself regardless of what happened, what injury, what road I decided to take, which was very unconventional, I’m still going to go out there and going to chase my dream.”