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This force learns fast … and so do foes

10/28/2009

This story appeared in the Oregon edition of the October ESPN RISE Magazine.

From the time the ball is snapped until the whistle blows, David Douglas (Portland, Ore.) defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa is in constant motion.

Odighizuwa, who goes by simply Owa, wreaks havoc all over the field. Push him outside and he'll spin back in to sack the quarterback. Throw a screen and he'll sniff it out. Even if you run a play to the opposite side of the field, he'll track you down somehow.

"He is relentless and so explosive," says David Douglas head coach Dan Wood, who's coached the Scots since 1990. "Athletically, he's pretty darn gifted, but he's also so fast out of the snap. He just doesn't quit."

"My mindset is really just to make plays," adds Owa.

Growing up, Owa never could have imagined football was in his future.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Owa moved to Nigeria when he was 3 and lived there until he was 8. From there, he went to Dayton, Ohio, for a couple months and Virginia for a year and a half before eventually moving to Portland in the fourth grade with his mom, A.B., and three younger brothers.

"It wasn't that bad because I got to see so many places," says Owa, whose first name means love, peace and joy.

In Portland, Owa took part in his first organized sport, but it wasn't football. He wasn't allowed to put on the pads because of his mom's concerns about the safety of the sport, so instead he ran track.

"I wasn't expecting him to be a football star," says A.B. "I initially thought it was too tough and I was worried he'd get hurt."

His mom eventually relented and Owa took to the gridiron in the eighth grade. The following year, he played on the David Douglas freshman team at running back and linebacker. That spring, Wood and defensive line coach Greg Carradine discussed where Owa would best fit on varsity as a sophomore, eventually deciding on defensive end.

Since it was a position switch for a kid who barely knew the basics of the game to begin with, there were understandably some growing pains.

"He didn't know what a three-point stance was, let alone how to get into one," recalls Carradine.

So for one week of spring ball, the David Douglas coaches focused on teaching Owa fundamentals rather than having him practice. He proved to be a fast learner.

"Once I introduced a concept to him, he went home and worked on it, reflected on it," says Carradine. "The next day, he had the concept down."

Getting him ready to play in a game was a different story. Owa earned a starting spot at defensive end as a sophomore, but he struggled at the beginning of the season.

"I definitely felt lost," he says.

But instead of getting frustrated, Owa focused on grasping how his position was played, either through watching film or by practicing. By midseason he began to feel more comfortable, and he went on to earn All-Mt. Hood Conference first team honors.

From there, Owa took his game to the next level. He turned himself into an all-around defensive force his junior year, taking up permanent residence in opposing backfields. He finished the season with 96 tackles -- 22 for loss -- and 18 sacks and was named Mt. Hood Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named to the Class 6A All-State second team.

Meanwhile, the Scots finished 8-4 and lost to South Medford, 42-20, in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs. Interest from colleges began to pick up once the season ended, and Owa started receiving offers from a stable of BCS powerhouses.

"It was a shock at first," Owa says. "I didn't think schools like that would reach out this far to recruit somebody. That was kind of a special thing. It gave me a lot of confidence."

And Owa has only scratched the surface of his potential. Wood, for one, believes his standout defensive end's work ethic will help make him a star on the college level and perhaps beyond.

"He's a great leader by example," says Wood. "People on our team and in school respect him because he works so hard."

Owa is as dedicated as he is on the field and in the classroom -- he had a 3.5 GPA heading into senior year -- because he's seen how hard his mother has worked to support him and his brothers. A.B. balances raising her sons with working as a nurse's assistant and studying to get her nursing degree.

"I do everything to the best of my abilities and don't take anything for granted," says Owa.

That's why the many college offers and the recent stardom haven't fazed him. He knows nothing is guaranteed in football and doesn't want to change the way he acts just because he's garnered a few accolades.

"I don't feel like because I have a lot of national attention that I'm better than anybody," he says. "I feel like I still have a journey to go. This is just a small step in it."

And the relentless Owa isn't about to stop now.

Jon Mahoney writes about high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.