Ovie Oghoufo: Path To The NFL Draft

By Simon Carroll

Versatility. A word that is overused at this time of year. Every draft prospect wants to say they are versatile – can offer something to a team they don’t already have. But when it comes to lining up in multiple positions, there’s only truly a select few who have shown they are capable of it.

Ovie Oghoufo operates within that rarefied air. A career that has seen multiple roles in three iconic college outposts, his skillset is as diverse as you could possibly imagine. The former Notre Dame, Texas and LSU ‘playmaker’ sits down with Simon Carroll to discuss his path to the NFL Draft:

African Born, Detroit Built

When it comes to football journeys, some are more elaborate than others. And despite Africa becoming an ever-growing source of NFL talent, it’s fair to say that, as a young boy born almost 10,000 miles away from where his family now reside, a football career was fairly unlikely for Ovie Oghoufo:

“I grew up in Detroit, but I was actually born in Nigeria. My people came over to America shortly after I was born, and I lived in the city for the early part of my life, elementary school and middle school. I first got introduced to football through my big cousin Mario Ojemudia – he played at Michigan, and he played defensive end too which obviously influenced me. That was great for me to see success up close and personal, and it inspired me. I got into a little league, and it was up from there.”

Despite traveling half the world, Oghoufo had a front row seat to what football could offer. And even though it was a tight-knit, modest family in the US, it fast became their pastime of choice:

“Most of my family – my immediate family – is actually still back in Nigeria. But Mario’s family had already made it over to the States at the time we arrived. I think I have another relative over in California somewhere, but honestly, it was just a few of us in Detroit at the time. So we were close, and I guess it was destiny to follow in my cousin’s footsteps. He was a great role model, and his brother Michael too – who recently just signed with the Arizona Cardinals. We’re quite the football family!”

Following in the footsteps of Mario Ojemudia began at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, a prestigious school with multiple state championships in football. At a young age, Oghoufo was determined to get on the field and play, regardless of position:

“I went to the same high school as my cousins, and did a lot of great things there. We made it to the state championship, and accomplished a lot. I played pretty much every position in the book! The only spot I didn’t run out at was o-line. But I’ve always just been an athletic kid, a playmaker. If there’s a ball involved, I’m making a play. Didn’t really matter what the position was – outside ‘backer at sophomore varsity, tight end in the early days. Even a bit of receiver and wildcat quarterback! And as I went through high school I became a little more versatile, playing a lot of middle or inside backer too. And I think you kind of see that versatility in my game today. I’m plug and play.”

Spellbound By South Bend

Ovie Oghoufo demonstrated natural talent for the game of football, and it culminated in an incredible high school senior season that saw him rack up 106 tackles, 31.0 TFL’s and 11 sacks on defense, and 32 receptions for 529 yards and seven TD’s on offense. It was a campaign that also saw him named all-state first team and all-state dream team, but it was a lot earlier than that when Oghoufo realized he was built for the sport:

“I knew football was going to take me places from my freshman year. I was just on junior varsity at that time but I was doing my thing – and I actually got my first offer from Akron after that season. At that moment, I kinda thought ‘okay, it’s time to take this game a lot more seriously!’ And I definitely did. I honed my skills, dedicated myself to the game the next three years. And it really was the start of my football journey, of getting where I am today.”

By the end of his high school career, Oghoufo had more scholarship offers than you could think of. Living less than an hour away from Ann Arbor where his cousin once played, you would be forgiven for assuming the most natural destination for his services would be the University of Michigan. But a trip to one of the most iconic landmarks in college football saw his journey take a different course – via South Bend, Indiana:

“Man! I went on a bus tour with my trainer and mentor. He used to do a lot of them for the kids, taking us to different college camps. That period was when my recruiting really blew up; I’d got a lot of MAC interest, and camps at Syracuse and Penn State had gone really well. So Big Ten offers started coming in, Michigan and Michigan State offered me, then Notre Dame – literally back to back to back. It was incredible! My pops had always talked about Notre Dame, and my teammate from high school Khalid Kareem was also playing down there. And I wasn’t really an ND fan at that point – I was all about Michigan, full ‘Go Blue’. But that camp, it was crazy. It’s hard to explain that place. It has this pull – it’s special.”

I ask Ovie what his cousin Mario made of his decision to choose Notre Dame over Michigan. He laughs and says “what do you think he thought?!” – the first sign of a natural, endearing sense of humor that Oghoufo has about him. But there was no doubt that, like many aspiring athletes before him, he had been spellbound by the mystique of Notre Dame – both on and off the field:

“Competing, both athletically and academically, at Notre Dame, is a real privilege. The tradition and all that, it comes with it – I was really excited for the opportunity they had given me. I committed right before my junior year, and despite them having a horrible year I stuck right through it with them. I saw the vision! Notre Dame has that magic that can get you. The people, the resources, the degree – football is big there, but South Bend offers so much more. It was the whole package for me.”

Notre Dame: The Beginning Of A Football Education

Often through this process, prospects are careful with answers, afraid to show themselves in any negative light in case it hurts their draft stock. Ovie Oghoufo is not that way inclined; charismatic and open, he’s unafraid to tell me about the challenges he faced during his time at Notre Dame. It was the first crossroads of a journey that would end up finishing a lot differently to how he anticipated:

“When you first go in, coming out of high school and doing everything I did, you have high expectations of yourself. I thought I was going to be at Notre Dame for three years and then moving on to the league – a guy like me, you’re a big fish and you have no idea! Of course, it didn’t work out that way. I would say that my time there was a humbling experience. It’s a whole different ball game at that level. The speed was insane! And I don’t think they knew where to put me really – recruited as an inside linebacker but probably more suited to the outside at that point. I was this skinny, athletic kid that could run but needed polish. I was raw.”

Despite not making the immediate impact he had hoped, Oghoufo was conscious to acknowledge that his first year on campus set the foundations for the rest of his college career – and allowed him to show aptitude at another position:

“That redshirt year was huge for me. The team didn’t have anyone to play defensive end, and they asked me. As a freshman, I just wanted to impress – I was gonna do whatever they wanted me to! But as it turned out, I was really good at it. We had a really good o-line that year, but I was beating the tackles in training. So the next year, we made that move permanent. And it was great – I learned from Julian Okwara, Daelin Hayes, Jerry Tillery. I couldn’t have asked for better people to help me, and it definitely helped my career, even if it was elsewhere. It was the start of the development of my game. I loved my time at Notre Dame – I wouldn’t change a minute of it.”

Inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end; if nothing else, Oghoufo was getting a real football education in his first three years at college. A man with a thirst for a challenge, he was willing to attack any role given to him – and at any level too. Talking with Ovie, you feel the standard he sets for himself is incredibly high. He came to college to be in the mix for National Championships, and testing himself at the highest level. His time at Notre Dame afforded him that opportunity, playing a range of elite programs and making the playoffs:

“I’m hungry for competition – I love it. I went to three of the best schools you could ever go to, so you know I don’t shy away from it. At Notre Dame we played all types of schools and all types of offenses, a benefit of being an independent program. That helps to build me to where I’m heading right now – playing at that level, with that consistency, and at the pinnacle of the sport in the playoffs – that’s what I’m all about.”

Taking His Talents To Texas

The first two seasons of Ovie Oghoufo’s college career had been both challenging and rewarding. The development of his game and the versatility he brought to the table were evident. What he needed now was more chances to show what he could do – and after showcasing himself against the Crimson Tide in the playoffs the year before, there was interest in his services from elsewhere. Oghoufo concluded a change of scenery was required for him to take the next step:

“I was looking for more opportunity, and that was the main driver behind the decision to leave Notre Dame. But of course, Texas is another storied program, and playing in Austin was obviously another factor in the decision. Coach Sark, and what he was able to do at ‘Bama, then starting a new era with Texas, it was enticing. He obviously had played against me as OC with Alabama the year before and knew what I could do. Then Coach Terry Joseph making the move from ND to Texas too, that was another connection – they needed edge rushers, and I fit the bill. It was really a no-brainer.”

Heading to Austin proved to be a very shrewd move for Oghoufo, who saw his production explode exponentially with the opportunities he was afforded. Interestingly, a move back to off-ball linebacker once again allowed him show what he could do in a different scheme and with a range of responsibilities:

“That’s when it really started to take off for real. The elevation of my game those two years at Texas was clear. When I got there, we started to understand how best to use my athleticism. The Sam position, as an off the ball linebacker, it kind of showed how I could move all over the field, not just going forward after the quarterback. That linebacker-defensive end position is so fluid, you can literally have 100 roles playing there. And I kinda did both positions at two of the biggest schools in the country, with everything in between. Versatility like that is rare. I made a lot of big plays in DKR as a Sam linebacker, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed – a few scouts have spoken to me about that kind of role at the next level.”

In two years in Burnt Orange, Oghoufo racked up 96 tackles, 14 TFL’s and 4.5 sacks, almost tripling his production from three years in Notre Dame. He has fond memories of his time as a Longhorn, and takes satisfaction in knowing he was part of the rebuild project that came when Steve Sarkisian took over the reins:

“I’m proud of what I achieved at Texas. You see them getting to the playoffs this year? I was part of the start of that, one of the guys who helped set the foundations for that success. And I don’t mind admitting I was watching them when I could, catching up on highlights. It’s exciting to see a turnaround at a big program like that, and knowing I was chosen to be a part of it, and repaying that faith with production and dedication – it’s great to see how far they’ve come. I was there when we were 5-7, helped take them to 8-4. Now, they’ve jumped to number four in the country. I credit myself as well as all the other guys on that journey.”

Baton Rouge: The Final Act

Nobody can accuse Ovie Oghoufo of staying in his comfort zone. Despite the great strides he had made at Texas, an unexpected opportunity to further pad an NFL resume saw him challenging himself once again – this time alongside a familiar face, in a conference he had always dreamed of competing in:

“To be honest, I really wasn’t aware that I had another year of eligibility. Coming into Texas, I thought I would just be there the two seasons. It was so late I found out, I was preparing for the last game of the season, and I got told I had another year! And it kinda took me a minute to reflect; I talked to my parents, family, coaches I’ve worked with back at high school and mentors. And I came to the conclusion that I wanted to push myself further again. And I was really grateful to be able to reconnect with Coach Kelly again at another premier program. Playing in the SEC was always something I wanted to do – and when I played Alabama at Notre Dame, I wanted more of that, to challenge myself against the best out there. So when I hit that portal and Brian Kelly reached out, I knew immediately what I was getting into.”

In the modern college football landscape, a draft prospect having played at two or even three different schools is no longer a surprise. But to do that at three of the biggest programs in the sport is certainly unusual to say the least. Ovie Oghoufo never set out to collect a trio of jerseys, but sometimes your journey has other ideas. Justifying the rationale behind the move to Baton Rouge, Oghoufo has no regrets with how his college career unfolded:

“The plan was one year at LSU, ball out, build my draft stock, get bigger and stronger, and show scouts I have that versatility to play in another defense AND dominate AND against the biggest competition in college football. That was really my intention, and I think I did it. In the beginning, this was not the journey I had in mind, the path I was going to go down for sure. Coming out of high school, I thought it would be one stop then the NFL. But honestly, I enjoyed every moment of my college career. I have fond memories of all three places I went to. Every coach, every teammate and all the relationships I made – I wouldn’t change a thing.”

The move to LSU was never designed for Oghoufo to check things off his own bucket list. That said, his appreciation of playing in a conference where ‘it just means more’ is obvious – Ovie is a big SEC fan, and was grateful to have experienced such a unique atmosphere:

“They’re all big, but they’re all different. The SEC is a gamchanger! It’s a storied conference, multiple championships, and I think it’s the feel, the environment that separates it. When you step on that field in an SEC game, there is a definite difference – you feel it. They live and breathe football, and those Saturdays are in their blood. You look at the crowd, and every game was a real ‘wow’ moment. There’s so much pride to match the talent there.”

Polishing An NFL Resume

2023 saw Ovie Oghoufo putting the finishing touches to a career fit for a shot at the NFL. The LSU Tigers would finish ranked 12th in the nation with double-digit wins – not bad at the most competitive level of the sport. Whilst Oghoufo was happy with his own season, it’s a testament to his competitiveness that the campaign fell short of his standards from a team perspective:

“Starting the season, we thought we were gonna go all the way. And to get to ten wins was a good achievement and all – in the SEC specially, it’s hard to do. But one of the reasons I liked working with Brian Kelly is because, the culture he builds – his teams strive for more than that. Good isn’t great, and we believed we had greatness in that locker room. We wanted it all, and the playoffs were of course what we were aiming for. We were good enough to achieve that. Myself, I was proud of the way I performed personally. Coming into a new program, I hit the ground running and showed my leadership capabilities as a veteran among the group. I was disruptive every game, a factor in every game – doing that at the highest level checks all the boxes for me. It vindicated my decision to transfer for sure.”

After one year in Louisiana, Oghoufo’s career ended with a Bowl game win over Wisconsin on New Year’s Day 2024. A far cry from the vision when he committed to Notre Dame back in 2017, it’s undoubtedly a story that he’s proud of – and his own performances have now given him the platform to work towards the next chapter; playing on Sundays instead of Saturdays is now the goal:

“As mentioned, I didn’t intend to have multiple stops in college. But being able to say I was a captain, over 160 tackles in my career, 10+ sacks in my career, and playing at three of the biggest football destinations, it’s something I can hold my head high on. A kid from Nigeria, to do that – it’s not something a lot of people in my position can say. And now, I’m so excited about this next stage, and what my college career has done to catapult me into the NFL Draft process. I’m thankful for all those experiences and the opportunities they have given me now.”

'A Jack Of All Trades'

A career that has seen him play in multiple positions in three different defenses leads to one very obvious question for Ovie Oghoufo – when it comes to the NFL, what position does he fit best? Oghoufo is keen not to be pigeon-holed; confident in his chameleon-like ability to find a home in any scheme, he’s just looking for someone who has a plan that allows him to flourish, regardless of where on the field that might be:

“I really just wanna find the right fit. I trust my versatility enough to play off the ball, fly off the edge, play the line of scrimmage, even middle linebacker. I just think it’s about the team having the right culture and a vision for me and what my skills can do to help them. My frame and build, it’s ideal to move me around – and I know after speaking to some teams they’re excited about what they can do with me. They’re looking forward to watching me perform and move on my pro day – and they’re gonna find a dude with speed, strength, twitchy and can play in space. I’m a jack of all trades. I can’t wait to bring that somewhere that wants me.”

Oghoufo brings some intriguing measurables to the table. 6’3” and 240lbs, the ‘tweener phrase may get carelessly thrown about by neanderthals of the game, unwilling to acknowledge progressive coaches who can find a home for talent regardless of shape and size. If you can play the game, there’s a place for you in the league. Ovie has already had the chance to showcase his talents at the Hula Bowl, one of the season’s all-star games. He was happy with the impression he made:

“I made a lot of plays, turned a lot of heads. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see scouts get hyped for you, and they did a great job at the Hula Bowl letting teams see what we could do. Now, the pro day is all about doubling down on that, showing them that it wasn’t a fluke or a one-off. I spoke to a lot of different people there, which tells me how I’m thought of. These moments are an opportunity to add value to my draft stock. I showed I can follow directions, and I could play free – I definitely showed my instincts there.”

It’s plain to see that Oghoufo is laser-focused on his pro day. ‘The biggest job interview of my life’ as he puts it actually lands on his birthday on March 27th. Working out at GameFace in Boca Raton, Florida, he’s confident he’ll be ready:

“They’re gonna find a refined player. Someone who jumps off the charts athletically – speed, agility, everything you need to do a variety of things. I’m really excited for the drill work, but also to speak to them again – honestly, at the Hula Bowl it was a bit nervy at first, but now I love talking to scouts, chatting ball and answering questions. I find it a challenge to show them I know football inside out. I love this game, I think I have a high IQ in this game, and it’s an opportunity to show them how invested I am in it. My college experience backs this up – I’m dedicated to winning. I didn’t lift the big trophy and that annoys me, which tells you everything about me. So I guess I’m just going to have to realize that ambition in the NFL instead. At pro day, I’m gonna prove to them I’m worth spending a draft pick on.”

The Next Chapter Of The Journey

Turn on the tape, and from an objective perspective, it’s hard to fathom how an NFL scout won’t find something about Ovie Oghoufo to like. His game is so diverse you can imagine him offering something to any scheme. This is a prospect with almost as many pass breakups in coverage as sacks, a defender who beats linemen with speed but shows power and form when tackling. When it comes to a training camp, his size, agility and instincts for the game are such that, cornerback aside, I would not be surprised to find him lined up anywhere on the field. Hell, his high school career shows he can help out in the passing game in a pinch! Some people just know how to play football, and Oghoufo is one of them.

Always smiling and quick to joke and make you feel comfortable, you get the underlying notion with Oghoufo that his friendly exterior is simply a cover for a steely determination underneath. Every answer comes back round to his pro day, the one last thing on the calendar that can help promote his push for an NFL career. It’s the only thing that matters right now – so much so, that Oghoufo has not even considered how he will welcome draft weekend. Despite the lack of preparations for the big moment, he’s well aware of the enormity of the landmark when it comes:

“I haven’t thought about that yet! I’m gonna head back to my family in Detroit, living it up with the people who care most. And with the draft in town, it’s gonna be a good time. And if I hear my name called, it’s going to mean the world. All this work that I’ve put in for years, ever since I was a kid, leads to this. It’s going to be a surreal moment, for me and my family – my cousins too. There’ll be a generation of NFL players from my family, again something that you won’t find often! It will be a very proud time, and I can’t wait for it.”

Ending on a light note, Oghoufo makes one final pitch to become a hometown hero. He may have been born in Nigeria, but he’s Detroit built – and ready to help get his boyhood team over the hump:

“I am a Lions fan! I’m from the city of course, but they disappointed me a little bit, not making the Super Bowl this year. But that’s okay, I can help out with that. I look good in blue – that’s facts!”

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A huge thank you to Ovie for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchdown wishes him well in his future career.