Egbuaba's Path Less Traveled; Could be a Terp

Nnamdi Egbuaba took the path less traveled to the upper levels of college football, to say the least. The St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.) linebacker, who is currently on an official visit to the University of Maryland, spent the first 15 years of his life in Sokoto, a poor, rural town in Nigeria where few families had running water or electricity.

Nnamdi Egbuaba took the path less traveled to the upper levels of college football, to say the least. The St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.) linebacker, who is currently on an official visit to the University of Maryland, spent the first 15 years of his life in Sokoto, a poor, rural town in Nigeria where few families had running water or electricity. The youngest of five brothers, Egbuaba's father passed away at an early age, leaving his mother to provide for her five children.

Despite having few modern comforts, Egbuaba was blessed with plenty of athletic gifts, and throughout his youth he played soccer (football) and basketball, eventually trying out at a basketball camp in hopes of earning a scholarship to play in the United States.

But at this camp he caught the eye of several football scouts, who had a foundation to help select Nigerian athletes earn scholarships to U.S. programs. Sunny Odogwu, a mammoth left tackle who is now at Miami, was the first to take advantage of this program a couple years ago. Egbuaba, who came to the States less than three years ago, was next in line.

"Nnamdi has come so, so far to play football at St. Frances," said Panthers coach Messay Hailemariam, a Maryland graduate who has a direct connection to the Nigerian foundation. "He did not come from a whole lot, and I couldn't be more proud of him. He grew up the poorest of the poor."

For someone who lived their entire life in Nigeria, Egbuaba, whose family still resides in Sokoto, adapted quickly to the Western lifestyle. He fit in well at St. Frances and needed just a few short months to master the English language. An affable, easygoing personality, Egbuaba rarely is seen without a smile plastered on his face – unless he's on the football field.

"It's amazing how quickly he picked up the game. He had a lot to learn when he first got here, but he was so talented and athletic, that it just came naturally to him," Hailemariam said. "The gears that he can get into, in addition to his strength and size -- he's 6-2, 218 and runs a true 4.5 40-yard dash – it's unreal. He can get downhill, he has decent IQ, he gets sideline to sideline and he's a great rusher. And not only does he have a tremendous motor, but he has tremendous instincts for the ball. He's come so far in learning the game in a year, it really is unbelievable."

And now he could be ready to continue his rise through the ranks in College Park, Md. Terps assistant Andre Powell had been in contact with Egbuaba, and Maryland just recently offered him a scholarship while securing an official visit from him Jan. 24-26. He also picked up offers from Virginia and Connecticut, but Maryland, a school he'd visited several times for camps and games, was considered the heavy favorite.

"Did he commit yet? No. … But it's looking pretty decent," Hailemarian said Jan. 25. "He's probably going to be a Terp… I'm going to go to their breakfast tomorrow and spend the rest of the day with Nnamdi, and I'll know for sure then.

"But he seemed very excited. I talked to him, he put the uniform on and he said it felt like home. He shared some strong words with me, so I don't see why he wouldn't be a Terp, though I don't want to be premature yet until I speak with him."

Besides speaking directly to Egbuaba, Hailemariam also had a chance to talk to head coach Randy Edsall. The St. Frances coach said the Terps' head man is particularly impressed with his linebacker recruit.

"You know what Randy Edsall said? He said, ‘He's one of the best kids I've seen since I've been coaching that has the kind of motor along with his character,'" Hailemariam said. "For someone like Randy, character really means a lot, and Nnamdi is a real character guy -- and, oh, can he play. He can bring it. I knew he was going to be a I-A kid from the get go."

Last fall Egbuaba racked up an eye-popping 19 sacks, earning himself a spot in the prestigious Chesapeake Bowl all-star game. He developed a reputation as a true thumper, and was even suspended for one game after the referee determined his hits were "way too hard," according to Hailemariam.

"Did you see that Calvert Hall game? That was the game he was suspended," Hailemariam said. "The referee said it wasn't a dirty hit, but it was just too hard. The kid he was going against was totally overmatched.

"And, I mean, Nnamdi wasn't doing this [getting sacks] against [inferior teams]. It was DeMatha, Friendship, McDonogh – schools like that. Against [Damian] Prince, the McNamara tackle, he got to him, and in the Chesapeake Bowl he got by a kid going to Miami. He beat Jared Cohen from McDonogh too."

Of course, there's still a ways to go before Egbuaba can be considered a complete linebacker. After all, he's only been playing football for a couple years and still has to master the finer points of the game.

"He's got to learn how to cover a little better and work on his change of direction and technique. But that's not going to be difficult for him with the speed and talent he has," Hailemariam said. "In high school I had him going after the quarterback, but I know he'll do a good job transitioning to coverage because he'd be in the backfield; the quarterback would release the ball; and he'd be 12 yards back downfield making the tackle. When you have that kind of motor and speed, it's just a matter of mastering your technique to get the rest down."

So, why, exactly did Egbuaba fly under the radar for so long? He didn't start procuring scholarship offers until just recently, when Maryland, Connecticut and Virginia came through in January.

"The SAT came back a little low and some schools were a little leery even though he had a 3.9 core GPA. So they were just a little nervous," Hailemariam said. "But when I put him in the SAT Prep, he got his scores up, and that's when the calls started coming. I mean, James Franklin started calling from Penn State – they're supposed to come in Monday -- and there's a lot more in my phone that are hitting me up, besides Maryland, UConn and UVA."

At this point, though, Egbuaba may not be ready to entertain his other suitors. He does have official visits scheduled for UConn and UVA, but it's up in the air whether he'll follow through with them.

"I have a tough time seeing him take other visits based on the conversation I had with him [Jan. 25]," Hailemariam said. "But at the end of the day it's his decision to make. We'll talk on the way back, have dinner and really figure it out."

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