Oklahoma State defensive end understands challenge in Ole Miss left tackle

NEW ORLEANS - Emmanuel Ogbah had never seen stoplights until he stepped outside of an airport in Houston when he was 9-years-old.

He and his family had arrived in the United States from Lagos, Nigeria, to begin a new life, and the radical adjustment they faced began immediately. They had family in Houston, as well as a significant Nigerian base. But everything was so new.

“It’s a humble feeling coming from where I come from to the position I’m in now,” Ogbah said. “It all comes back to the hard work and the faith in God I put in.”

Eventually, Ogbah and his family settled in and were able to find normalcy. Ogbah grew up playing basketball and soccer, so he threw himself into sports. In seventh grade, though, his friends began playing football. He decided to try out, too, and it didn’t take long for Ogbah to take to the sport.

Many years later, the former middle-school fullback/quarterback/defensive linemen has blossomed into a 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end for Oklahoma State. He’s the NCAA’s active leader with 28.0 sacks, and he’s currently projected as a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2016. 

The Cowboys face off against Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 1 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

“He looks like a very strong player,” Ole Miss offensive lineman Fahn Cooper said, adding Ogbah reminds him of current Rebel defensive end Fadol Brown. “He definitely can get guys. He has a nice little push-pull move, and he plays pretty aggressive. That serves him well, and it’s helped him make a lot of plays. He switches sides. He’ll get a rush on both sides, left edge and right edge.

“Just physically, he’s got some intangibles that not a lot of guys have. Most guys we played against this year were quick guys that tried to get around you. He’s more like a physical player. He’s one of those guys that tries to push guys back. Big, strong guy, but he kind of sneaks up on you with his quickness.”

Cooper and the Ole Miss offensive line will have their hands full with Ogbah, who leads the Big 12 and ranks third nationally with 13.0 sacks. He was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s top defensive end.

Of course, the Rebels will counter with Laremy Tunsil, himself a projected first-round NFL Draft (potentially even first overall) and a second team All-American. He earned first team All-SEC honors this season despite playing in and starting just five games due to a seven-game NCAA suspension.

“It’s going to be a great matchup,” Ogbah said. “He’s supposed to be the No. 1 offensive lineman in the country. It should be a good matchup for me and my team to go against. It’s all about competition. Who’s the better man? That’s how I go into the game. I have to be the best I can be for my team.”

The Rebels were 4-1 with the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Tunsil at left tackle, averaging 200.6 rushing yards per game, 506.0 total yards and less than one sack.

“He’s very athletic for a guy his size,” Ogbah said of Tunsil. “It’ll be a real challenge trying to get around him because he’s so lengthy. We’re going to have to do a good job defeating the blocks. But I watch both tackles (on film) because I go against both tackles. I just learn their schemes, learn their movement and all that.”

Oklahoma State ranks No. 95 nationally in total defense, including a rushing defense sitting No. 83 in the country and a passing defense ranked 91st. Ole Miss boasts the nation’s No. 11 offense in total yards (514.8), and the Rebels are No. 10 (333.7) in passing.

“They’ll start out fast,” Ogbah said. “(Ole Miss quarterback) Chad Kelly’s a great player. He’s fast. He’s the one who runs their offense. We have to do a good job of containing him and stopping him because he controls their offense.”

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