Georgetown Football Player Gives Thanks for Chance of a Lifetime
Nov. 30, 2005
Washington, D.C. -- It wasn't exactly how Georgetown University senior football player Michael Ononibaku (Amherst, Mass./Amherst) had planned on spending Thanksgiving. It wasn't even exactly where Ononibaku had planned on spending his Turkey Day.
But there he was, leaving Washington on Thursday morning and heading to Petersburg, Virginia. Sure, it wasn't a glamorous location, but the opportunities that could come from the 130-mile trip could last a lifetime.
Soon after the Georgetown football season ended on November 19, Ononibaku found out that he had been selected to play in the East Coast Bowl, an all-star game for lower division players. In the past, the game has included only Division II and III players, but this year, Division I-AA players were selected.
More than 200 nominations from 60 schools in 22 states were received by the selection committee. He was one of only 68 players selected to play, with 34 representing the North and South teams, respectively. Ononibaku was the only player from the Patriot League to play in the game and was one of only 11 Division I-AA players.
"It was a good experience because it was good to get exposure," he said upon his return to campus. "I was able to showcase the skills I have, which will hopefully help me in terms of me getting to the next level."
Ononibaku helped lead Georgetown to a 4-7 record this season, including a 2-4 mark in the Patriot League. He capped off his four-year career on the Hilltop by earning first team Patriot League honors for the second-straight year.
Ononibaku leaves Georgetown as one of the most decorated defensive players in program history. He was a three-time Patriot League selection, as he earned second team honors as a sophomore in 2003, earned preseason All-America Honorable Mention honors form The Sports Network this season and was named to Don Hansen's Football Gazette NCAA Division I-AA First Team Defense All-America team last year.
One of the team's captains, Ononibaku finished third on the team, and 10th in the Patriot League, in tackles with 81 (39 solo), a 7.4 per game average. He led the conference in both sacks, with 8.5 (seven solo), and tackles for loss, with 15.5 (13 solo). He finished the season ranked among the top-25 in the country in tackles for loss. In conference games, Ononibaku led the league with 10.0 tackles for loss in seven games, and third in the league with 4.5 sacks.
Ononibaku also finishes his career second all-time at Georgetown in sacks with 29, and sixth all-time in tackles with 212.
The 6-1, 235 pound player, who spent the last two years at Georgetown as a defensive end, started and appeared as an outside linebacker for the South team, helping to lead them to a 27-14 win over the North. He had two solo tackles in the game.
"It was good to play in a position that I would probably project at in the next level," he said. "We were shuttling a lot of players in and out, but I think I fared pretty well."
It was an interesting experience for the senior, who had planned on spending his holiday with his family. Instead, he was in a car for the two-plus hour drive to the hotel in Petersburg. Upon checking in, he was greeted by scouts from the National Football League, who weighed him and checked his arm length and then measured his hands. Following that, he joined the other 67 players in the game and had a meal together.
"Coming into it, I thought it was kind of weird that I would be spending my Thanksgiving away from home for the first time," he said. "I was a bit upset, but I realized it's the next phase of my life. You realize that you're going to have to accept certain sacrifices. If I want to achieve my goal (of playing at the next level), it's something I have to face."
The next morning, after breakfast, players were brought to Cameron Field for practice and for testing, which included 40-yard runs, short shuttles, position drills and one-on-one procedures.
After a morning of practice, Ononibaku and his fellow all-stars split into two groups, with one visiting a hospital, the other visiting a shelter for abused women and children. Ononibaku was part of the group that went to the shelter and it helped to put things in perspective for him. "I remembered thinking that it was a bummer to be away from home for the holiday," he said. "But then we went to visit the shelter.
"Seeing those kids, for a lot of us, we're focusing on playing ball and impressing the NFL scouts, but that visit was good because it made us realize that life isn't just about football. It was good that they let us do that."
It was also a chance for college seniors, like Ononibaku, who will earn a degree in finance and management in May, to give some words of advice as well. "I had a good experience there," he said. "I had a chance to interact with the kids and talk to them about their everyday lives.
"We talked to the kids about staying in school and having a good mindset in life. There are things that can distract kids that young. I wanted to just give them some guidance and encouragement."
The remainder of the day was free for Ononibaku, so he rested and prepared for the game, which would be a chance to shine in front of scouts from the NFL, the Canadian Football League and the Arena League. During the practice day, Ononibaku said that he had the chance to meet with several NFL teams and one of the CFL squads. "It wasn't really intimidating," he said. "The aspect that was more nerve-wracking was knowing that they were watching.
"For a lot of guys like me, it's our one shot. I think I played pretty well and performed well enough."
Ononibaku, however, is hoping that this is not his only shot.
There are two more all-star games coming up - the Las Vegas Bowl on December 22, and the Hula Bowl on January 21 - and the hope is that he will get invited to play in one of those as well. And that would be just one more chance for him.
"I'm hoping for that," he said. "If it doesn't work out, it's not the end of the world, but I'm hoping I can get one more chance to show that I can play at the next level, whatever level that may be."