April 19, 2009
By: Jeremy Sharpe, Texas Media Relations
When Chris Ogbonnaya came to Texas in 2004, he wasn’t totally sure how he’d fit into the Longhorn football program, but one thing was certain. He was going to take advantage of the opportunity, both on the field and off. The results of five years of hard work were All-Big 12 honors both athletically and academically, two degrees and a chance to play in the NFL.
Ogbonnaya will share those experiences as the student-athlete speaker during the 2009 Academic Awards Presentation on Monday at the Frank Erwin Center.
“It’s an honor to represent all the great student-athletes we have at Texas,” Ogbonnaya said. “ When I was approached about speaking, I quickly accepted. I had a great experience here and it was a great opportunity for me.”
Ogbonnaya arrived at Texas with a strong work ethic that was instilled in him by his father, Kalu, who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria in 1976. Kalu placed a great importance on academic success, which gave Ogbonnaya the sense of purpose he would need to succeed while balancing the rigorous demands of a student-athlete at Texas.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Ogbonnaya explained. “I got recruited here because of my athletic ability, but I wanted to balance both. It worked out very well for me.”
So well that Ogbonnaya earned two undergraduate degrees and is currently working on a master’s degree, all with thoughts of attending law school at some point. His first degree in history came after just three and a half years in Austin. Ogbonnaya went on to earn a second bachelor’s degree in corporate communications and began work on his master’s in advertising last fall.
“Chris epitomizes what you want in a student-athlete and the type of person and player we look for in our program,” said head coach Mack Brown. “He is hard-working, unselfish, comes from a great family and was one of the strong leaders for our team last year. Chris is a guy that we never had to push to work harder on or off the field. He set the standard for all of the younger guys to follow and is a guy that will have a great deal of success in whatever he chooses to do.”
During his journey, Ogbonnaya earned second-team Academic All-America honors, was a semifinalist for the Draddy Trophy, better known as the Academic Heisman, and was a four-time Academic All-Big 12 performer.
“The most important thing for me was discipline,” Ogbonnaya added. “A lot of guys want to do well both academically and athletically, but it’s hard. You have to be disciplined enough to come home from a long day, hours of practice, and even though you are tired, still get your work done.”
That discipline and constant work ethic ended up paying off for Ogbonnaya on the field as well. Recruited as a wide receiver, Ogbonnaya knew he was coming into a program full of talented players, but the words of head coach Mack Brown always stuck with him when he was trying to find his way on the football field.
“When coach Brown recruited me, he promised me that he didn’t know where I’d end up, but that I would have some kind of effect on the team while I was at Texas,” Ogbonnaya explained. “I always took that to heart. It went a long way with me that he would tell me something like that. He was honest. Because of that, I took it upon myself that no matter what happened, I was going to keep fighting.”
Eventually, the fight in Ogbonnaya paid off. After spending his redshirt season at wide receiver, Ogbonnaya moved to fullback for the 2005 campaign and saw action in eight games during the National Championship run. He then played in all 26 games over his sophomore and junior seasons before breaking out in 2008 at tailback.
“All of the movement really helped me become a complete back,” explained Ogbonnaya. “I applied my receiving skills from my time at wide receiver and my blocking skills from my time at fullback. I think that versatility helped me gain the trust of the coaching staff, and the effects of the process showed up during my senior year.”
Ogbonnaya accumulated more rushing and receiving yards during his senior season than he had in the three previous seasons combined. His 46 receptions rank first on UT’s single-season receptions by a running back list and his 540 receiving yards rank second. He started seven of UT’s 13 games and came up with two of his best performances during a crucial stretch in the middle of the season against Colorado and Oklahoma.
In Boulder, Ogbonnaya was the star of the first half. On UT’s third play from scrimmage, he took a short pass from QB Colt McCoy and turned it into a 65-yard TD that gave Texas a 7-0 lead and the momentum to defeat the Buffaloes, 38-14. He finished the half with 111 receiving yards, which were the most ever by a UT running back in a half.
In the second half, Ogbonnaya turned to the ground. After Colorado scored its first points of the game to make the score 28-7, he quieted the crowd on UT’s next play. He broke a 51-yard run that set up another touchdown and effectively put the game out of reach. Ogbonnaya finished the game with 71 yards rushing, 116 yards receiving and two TDs, one on the ground and one through the air.
“That was a really fun time for me,” recalled Ogbonnaya. “I wanted to show my family, which is the most important thing to me, that all the time I invested wasn’t for nothing. I was also happy that I was able to make some kind of contribution to the team.”
Coming off the best game of his career, Ogbonnaya was going to be counted on as No. 5 Texas entered its annual Red River Rivalry game with No. 1 Oklahoma, and he didn’t disappoint.
In one of the rivalry’s true classics, Ogbonnaya and the Longhorns’ offense ended up wearing out the Sooners’ defense in a 45-35 victory. Ogbonnaya posted the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, with 119 of his 127 yards coming in the second half, and had three key plays that led the Horns to victory.
Early in the third quarter, Oklahoma had taken a 28-20 lead, but Ogbonnaya’s 30-yard scamper during the ensuing possession brought the Longhorns to life on a drive that resulted in a TD that closed the deficit to a single point.
The lead changed hands three times over the next 11 minutes before the Longhorns got the ball at their own 20 with 6:32 to go with a 38-35 lead. It looked like they might go three-and-out when they came to the line for a third-and-four. McCoy dropped back to pass, but couldn’t find anyone. Ogbonnaya, who wasn’t out in the pattern, but instead was blocking to McCoy’s right, sensed time was running out on the play and decided to release from his block to give McCoy an outlet. Obviously, thinking the same thing, McCoy hit Ogbonnaya in the flat and he took it 10 yards to convert the crucial third down.
On the next play, Ogbonnaya tallied the longest run of his career, a 62-yarder that looked like a touchdown but ended up being spotted at the two-yard line. Texas punched it in from there to produce the final 45-35 tally.
“Whenever the team needs a play, you obviously want to be the guy to make it for them,” Ogbonnaya said. “Whether it's getting a first down, making a block that helps us or making a long run, it’s gratifying to know that you were able to help in some capacity.”
While success in school came a little earlier than it did on the field for Ogbonnaya, his perseverance and persistence paid off in both areas. Now, he has put himself in a position to achieve even greater things.
Since the season ended, Ogbonnaya has been training in California. He was invited to the NFL Combine in February and continued to peak the interest of some NFL teams that resulted in invitations to private workouts. Now, Ogbonnaya will wait with great anticipation to see if his name is called during this weekend’s NFL Draft.
“It’s a culmination of all five years at Texas," Ogbonnaya said. “I did well enough there to propel myself into the combine, pro day and for the draft. I’m just anxious to see what happens next weekend.”
Even if Ogbonnaya doesn’t hear his name called, several teams have already told him they would be interested in bringing him into camp as a free agent.
“The Unversity of Texas taught me a lot of things that are going to help me be successful in whatever I do,” Ogbonnaya acknowledged. “I learned to become a leader and what it takes to achieve things both personally and as a team. I understand the value of work ethic, discipline and consistency because that’s what got me to the point I am now. I think those kinds of things are attractive to NFL franchises and to potential employers down the road.”
Those are also the things that make him the definition of a student-athlete.