CHICAGO – Tailback Dare Ogunbowale has no nerves stepping into the backfield, reading his blockers and hitting a running lane with a full head of steam, knowing full well a defender could be right around the corner ready to try to knock his teeth in.
Stepping up to a microphone with the entire Big Ten conference watching isn’t anything scarier.
Ogunbowale will be the keynote speaker during the 45th annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon Tuesday here at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, an honor that comes with a different kind of pressure than trying to outsmart defenders. Not only will Ogunbowale be talking to a room full of starving Big Ten fanatics (paying $110 a seat nonetheless), he will representing the entire body of Big Ten football athletes.
“I’m not really nervous at,” Ogunbowale said. “My nerves were making sure that everything I’m saying is politically correct and that I thank all the right people.”
Picked by the Big Ten conference from a school representative nominated by each program, Ogunbowale will join a list of former speakers that include Purdue’s Drew Brees, Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. Starting in 1999, Ogunbowale will join former walk-on wide receiver Luke Swan as the only two Badgers to be selected to speak.
Ogunbowale is keeping the nuts and bolts of his speech under wraps until tomorrow, but he did say it didn’t take “very long” to put the words down on paper.
“I was excited about it, but once that subsided I knew what I wanted to say,” Ogunbowale said. “I knew what I wanted my message to be … I want to make sure people know my story, how I got here and the opportunity they have.”
The story of Ogunbowale’s career at the University of Wisconsin has been told before. Once an in-state walk-on in 2012 with little fanfare, Ogunbowale switched from cornerback to tailback during the 2014 nonconference season to provide needed depth at the position.
A year later, Ogunbowale was not only on scholarship, but starting games with junior Corey Clement on the shelf recovering from sports hernia surgeries. It wasn’t an ideal situation, especially since he had been playing the position only a year, but Ogunbowale production gave the Badgers 1,018 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns on 230 touches.
“Dare’s value is huge to this team,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “As you go through, you have a transition each year with seniors leaving. Last year at this time, we wouldn’t have been saying Dare was going to be what he was during the season. He’s done a great job of taking those experiences that people respect what he has done. He’s clearly emerged as one of the true leaders of this team.”
Ogunbowale will likely see a reduction in his on-field role this season considering senior Corey Clement is back and healthy, but his approach off the field hasn’t waned. One of only 15 seniors on the team, the former walk-on makes sure things run precise and takes exception to when things don’t.
Of all the scuffles throughout spring camp, it was a fair bet that Ogunbowale was involved. In one instance, noticing the offense was practicing sluggish, Ogunbowale saw an opportunity when linebacker Vince Biegel threw tailback Corey Clement down to the turf.
“I saw a chance to start a little scuffle, and after that the offense got a little fire under its belt,” he recalled. “I’m very passionate about the game, so stuff like that I like to show my teammates how passionate I am.”
It’s a feistiness that has earned Ogunbowale the respect of his peers. Off the field, Ogunbowale is close to a degree in economics and has spent the summer interning with Merrill Lynch.
He has also been driving force behind the growth of UW’s Beyond the Game program as the co-president, helping student-athletes focus on personal and career development for student-athletes for when their time in athletics is complete.
It’s an extension of his time at Milwaukee Marquette High School where he was a team captain, an all-conference defensive back, a member of the school’s Leadership Council and a four-year member of the high honor roll.
Simply put, no matter where he’s been, Ogunbowale has been ready to lead.
“Off the field Dare’s consistent,” Chryst said. “He spends time getting to know guys so he cuts through some layers. Therefore that enables you to shoot them straight. He holds himself accountable. He’s never asking himself one person to do something he doesn’t do and then champion.”
“There is a ton of qualities off the field that are big time about him,” Chryst added, “but I think is on the field you respect his work, his willingness to do anything for the team and his competitiveness.”