David Ojabo: From Nigeria to Aberdeenshire, to the second round of the NFL Draft

Ojabo’s emotional exclamation of happiness after being selected had a bit of added appeal due to the trials and tribulations he had to face along the way, most notably the rupture of his Achilles just a few weeks before the draft.

While some speculated that the injury might have affected his draft lineup—some pundits predicted he would be selected in the first round—by making it to the second round, the Ravens could have pulled off a masterful coup, given the wonders of modern graphics science and recovery.

And for a player looking to find his way into the league, Ojabo was the perfect fit. His high school teammate, Odafe Ove, was selected in the first round of last year’s draft by the Ravens, and the team’s new defensive coordinator Mike McDonald was Ojabo’s defensive coordinator at Michigan.

As Ojabo said CNN Sportshe is a “child of destiny”.

“Everything that happens to me in this life is not me,” said the 22-year-old. “I just live by my script.

“So where I had to leave is not my destiny. Obviously, I had to go here. , win the Big Ten, and then, next year, I move into the league and follow him.

“It’s not by accident. So I don’t have anything to worry about in this life, man. I just live day by day.”

So much has already been achieved by a young man who only five years ago began to play sports.

Ojabo poses for a portrait during an NFL scouting combo.

Fate

Seven-year-old Ojabo was born in soccer-obsessed Nigeria and moved to Scotland with his family because his father was an engineer.

And it was in Britain that Ojabo blossomed and discovered his love for the sport. Together with his brother, he learned to play football and basketball.

Although his brother was “the main athletic guy in the family” at a young age, Obajo takes athletics seriously enough to make a professional career out of it.

“Now (my brother) is smarter and I kind of took charge,” he explained.

When he turned 15, Ojabo decided that in order to improve his chances of becoming an elite football or basketball player, he would move to the US to enroll in high schools and colleges with programs that could better promote his development.

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But despite his best-laid plans, his fate soon changed.

While he was running the track at his high school, Blair Academy in New Jersey, Ojabo took a front row seat after seeing his current Ravens teammate, Ove, “explode” during an American football game.

Ove, who was a year older than Ojabo, went to Penn State to play college football before eventually being selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft with the 31st overall pick.

So, in 2017, at the age of 17 – much later than most would realize – Ojabo tried his hand at American football.

The rest, they say, is history.

Ojabo celebrating his victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship.

Regulation and prosperity

Learning a new sport, especially one with so many differences from the ones he grew up with, was difficult.

“I mean, the hardest thing in the first place is the contact,” he said. “Almost every sport is different than football, hence the helmet. It’s one on one. So it was definitely the most important transition for me.”

Despite having to learn a “completely new sport” with new rules and a “new style of play”, Ojabo took to it like a duck to water.

After his first year of high school football, Ojabo received 35 college scholarship offers, including some of the most prestigious programs in the country. Then it was necessary to visit the schools and choose which one would best suit his needs, both in studies and in sports.

On the advice of his family, Ojabo chose the University of Michigan. “We all know that Michigan is the best school in the country,” he said. “And then of course the football side, the game under coach (Jim) Harbaugh and the biggest stadium in the country, you can’t get past that.”

Ojabo and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh hug after a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Although he changed into a redshirt as a freshman — an act of deferral to extend eligibility at the college level — and was a reserve in 2020, when the starter opportunity arose, he grabbed it with both hands.

In a breakthrough season in 2021, playing on the other side of the defensive line from the world number one. 2022 draft pick Aidan Hutchinson, Ojabo showed off his explosive athleticism and skills with a total of 11 sacks and five forced fumbles, establishing himself as one of the country’s top defensemen.

At the end of the season, he decided to announce the draft to make his last push in the NFL.

Ojabo recalled the drafting process—when he was scrutinized by teams and drafting experts were invited to discuss his strengths and weaknesses—as “definitely exciting” and “also humiliating.”

“You know you’re in that small percentage of people who get picked up and recognized to get to the next level. So it’s a blessing all the time,” he said.

But as soon as things began to improve, disaster struck.

Ojabo rushes the quarterback against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

adversity

For Ojabo, Saturday, March 19, turned out in a way he could not have imagined.

The linebacker, along with his Michigan Wolverines teammates, showed off his athletic and ball skills to the assembled NFL scouts and coaches at the school pro day.

But mid-practice, as he dribbled, having just caught it, Ojabo collapsed to the floor, clutching his left ankle.

It was later confirmed that he had torn his Achilles. Ojabo recalled being “shocked” by the first injury of his career.

Ojabo runs 40 yards during the 2022 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Just a few days later, Ojabo underwent surgery to repair the damage, but now his future was uncertain.

Initially, he was predicted to be selected in the first round. But after this injury, it was more difficult to predict.

It was an agonizing first day of the draft as Ojabo was forced to wait. His phone didn’t ring. He recalled sitting and waiting, “full of anxiety.”

But on Friday, April 29, his phone finally rang. On the other end of the line was Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, who told Ojabo that with the 45th pick in the draft, Baltimore would pick him.

“There is no feeling in this world that can really be compared: this is your destiny, which has just been decided in front of the whole world. Just by feeling your phone vibrate, you keep seeing all those highlights on YouTube, but really experiencing it for yourself was different. It was a blessing.”

Reunited with his high school teammate, playing as his former college defensive coordinator and older brother John Harbaugh, his college coach, Baltimore became Ojabo’s second home.

Ojabo points to the Ravens logo after the draft.

Despite the Achilles injury, Ojabo is looking to make an impact in his rookie year as he aims to return at some point in the upcoming season. He cites LA Rams running back Cam Akers, who returned from a similar injury last season six months after.

But reflecting on his career so far, despite being an NFL second-round rookie, Ojabo said he’s just getting started.

“I see myself as one of them, judging by the way I play. After all, I’ve only been playing for five years. So I’m learning as I go and trying to figure it out.”