The senior defensive lineman is intimidating enough for opponents standing 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds. But that’s only the beginning of the reputation for the Katy (Texas) Taylor High School standout who has been known for picking up quarterbacks and tossing them to the turf or grabbing a running back and spinning him back five yards.
"His upside is through the roof," said J Jensen, Taylor’s defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. "When you watch the progression he’s made from his junior to his senior year, I think the same progression is going to happen from his senior year of high school through his freshman/sophomore/junior year of college. I think by the time he’s done, he’s going to be an NFL player coming out of college."
Ogbonnia tweeted last week his decision would come down to the Feb. 7 national signing day between finalists Texas Tech, Tennessee, UCLA, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Nebraska. But unlike most coveted recruits, the D-lineman will make his evaluation in large part based on how schools plan to balance football with his aim to continue as one of the top shot-put and discus throwers in the country.
That could be one area where Nebraska stands out, he told The World-Herald on Tuesday. He knows Nebraska coach Scott Frost is a former thrower — Frost won state gold in the shot in 1993 — and knows Frost’s mother, Carol, even coached track at the school in the late 1970s. For someone with Ogbonnia’s sheer strength to bench 350 pounds and squat 600, support to do both goes a long way.
That was one of many topics Ogbonnia touched on Tuesday morning when Frost, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and D-line coach Mike Dawson stopped by his Houston-area school. The big man is set to officially visit Lincoln this weekend after doing the same at Tennessee last weekend and UCLA, Ole Miss and Texas Tech in previous months.
"They can see me coming in there being the next great one," Ogbonnia said. "They just want me to come in, they need some defensive linemen and I think I could maybe have an early impact when I get there."
A three-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals (ESPN gives him no rating), Ogbonnia began his senior season at nose guard in Taylor’s 3-4 scheme but moved around the line after Texas A&M signee and four-star end Max Wright tore his ACL two games into the fall. In just his third year playing competitive tackle football, he could push back two blockers at once, play multiple techniques and track down the ball even when the action was moving away from him.
The result was 61 tackles (10 for loss) and nine QB hurries as Taylor went 6-4. Jensen said "Tito" was under-recruited as a junior because he didn’t have highlight film of moving well laterally. Coaches helped him improve in that regard as well as making stops in space, and it paid off with a flurry of Power Five offers the last two months.
"He’s 6-foot-4½ and 300 pounds; he can run like that and make plays like that," Jensen said. "There’s a premium on those guys, so he might have been under the radar early, but the more people watched his film and coaches changed schools, they jumped on him. And there’s a premium on good kids with high GPAs that are football players like his is. He’s the total package of a student-athlete."
Nebraska offered Jan. 4, though Ogbonnia laughs that he may have initiated the process. The former Husker staff had reached out to him but hadn’t extended a scholarship, so the lineman took it upon himself to contact new NU running backs coach Ryan Held on Twitter and inform him that he was still interested.
Now the Huskers get the last crack at him this weekend. He said he’ll be evaluating the kind of people at NU, if he feels at home there and whether the academics — and football program — support his goal of majoring in petroleum engineering.
Said Jensen: "Coach Frost and those guys have done a great job of recruiting him and making him feel important and showing him an actual plan for how they plan to use him in both sports."
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