Charlottes Larry Ogunjobi took unlikely path to the NFL

The newest member of the Cleveland Browns didnt set out to make history as the first Charlotte 49ers football player to be drafted by the NFL. Truth be told, he never really set out to play football at all.

Brian Spurlock—USA TODAY Sports
Larry Ogunjobi used a strong performance at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February to become the third round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns

Larry Ogunjobi didn’t set out to make history as the first Charlotte 49ers football player to be drafted by the NFL. Truth be told, he never really set out to play football at all. He only took up the sport because his parents made him do it. “It is kind of a crazy story actually,” Ogunjobi said Friday after being introduced by the Cleveland Browns as their third-round selection. “I didn’t start playing football until my sophomore year of high school. I was 350 pounds and never played football before and my parents said that I was getting too fat. “They took away my game system. They got me a coach and he trained me for about a month or so and got me down to about 330. He took me to the high school one day and I asked him what we were doing there and he said, ‘You’re going to play football.’ I said, ‘No I’m not.’ He said, ‘Yes you are,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not.'” Despite his protests, personal trainer Robert Mitchell and his Nigerian immigrant parents won out. The following Saturday, he was on the football field at Greensboro’s Ragsdale High School attending his first practice. He didn’t have to be dragged there screaming and kicking, but he made it clear that the only kind of football he was interested in playing was the Madden video game his parents had taken from him a few weeks earlier. “I couldn’t get through the first workout and the coaches came up to me the next day and they said, ‘Larry, we just want to make sure that you’re still here,'” the 6-foot-3 defensive tackle recalled. “I thought, yes I’m still here coach, but in my head I was only there because I had to be.” Ogunjobi’s attitude about football began to change as both his physical condition and understanding of the game continued to improve. He also found that he was pretty good at it, earning the award for Most Improved Junior Varsity Player at the end of that sophomore season. It was a seemingly minor award compared to some of the honors he’s collected since, including multiple all-conference selections in high school and college, along with invitations to the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. But it was significant in that it became the springboard that would help catapult him all the way to the top level of the game. “In retrospect, that was the first time in my life where I felt like I earned an award that I actually worked for,” Ogunjobi said. “That is what kind of set the framework for everything that has happened up to this point.” Motivated by his immediate success and seeing several upperclassmen on the varsity team getting recruited by colleges, Ogunjobi sought out Ragsdale coach Tommy Norwood and asked him what he needed to do to get better. He was told to work on his quickness, strength and technique. So he did. He began going to the local YMCA after practice to continue working out. He got to the point where he could run two miles and ride a bicycle for 15 miles. He lost 100 pounds, then began building it back up with muscle instead of body fat. By the time he was a senior, he was good enough to be considered a legitimate college prospect. He signed with Charlotte and its newly formed program because it was the first school that offered him a scholarship. “I’m first generation, so my family didn’t know anything about football,” he said. “It was a new experience. Going to Charlotte was kind of a luck of the draw. I prayed about it. They were my first offer. I only took one visit. I had other offers, but Charlotte was a unique situation. “To be the first in so many categories is nothing but a blessing and I thank God everyday for allowing me to be in that position.” Ogunjobi went on to start every game of his four college seasons. He is the only member of the 49ers to play in all 46 games of the program’s short history, establishing the school’s single-season records for sacks (5.0 in 2104) and tackles for loss (14.4 in 2015) along the way while working on a double major in computer science and biology. “I’m really proud of Larry and how he handled himself in all aspects of his collegiate career — athletically, academically, as a team leader and cornerstone,” Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said. “He worked extremely hard to make himself a really strong player. He helped lay the foundation for us. He’s been a rock in building this program and that’s set us up for good things in the future. He’s everything you want in a student-athlete.” And now, after a standout performance at the Senior Bowl that helped catch the Browns’ attention, he’s a professional. It’s a goal he didn’t actively pursue until late in his college career. “When you are younger, people talk about the NFL as something they want to do,” Ogunjobi said. “Me, I was still on the couch eating potato chips and playing video games. That wasn’t one of my dreams. It’s crazy that now this is what I’m doing.” So crazy that he’s still having a hard time comprehending it all. And why not? The kid that once had to be pulled away from his video game console and forced to play football now can’t wait to get onto the practice field as a member of the Cleveland Browns. “It is a blessing,” he said. “To be the first player ever drafted from my school, it just opens so many doors not just for me but for everybody else — the people and the players who are going to Charlotte, and not even Charlotte but the schools that have the small school stigma on it and that you can’t go here or that you can’t get drafted because you went here. “It doesn’t matter. If you’re good enough, they will come find you. I feel like getting drafted is just that stake in the ground that allows people to know that you can do it if you want it badly enough.”