This article appears in the October/November 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Vince Oghobaase used to be a tuba player at Killough Middle School. And everybody loves the tuba player. Just a breathless, burly guy periodically puffing into a big brass instrument.
"I was pretty good at it, too," boasts Oghobaase, now a senior defensive lineman at Alief Hastings.
Point is, nobody expects the tuba player to be capable of mayhem. Especially one as buttoned-down, straight-laced and soft-spoken as Oghobaase (pronounced Oh-go-baah-see).
But the 6-foot-6, 310-pound SchoolSports All-American, who is rated the nation's No. 3 defensive lineman and No. 20 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, quickly reminds people not to judge a book by its cover.
"Don't take my kindness lightly," says Oghobaase, 17, who terrorized opposing offenses to the tune of 124 total tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and four fumble recoveries last season. "I was raised to know how to talk to people. But on the field, you wouldn't even know the guy you're talking to right now."
Consider us reminded.
Oghobaase, whose Nigerian-born father has the same first name, speaks plainly. There is, nonetheless, complexity in everything he says. Take, for example, his insistence that his choice of collegiate destination is "wide open." Fair enough.
Factor in some other data, however, and you'll discover important clues. Oghobaase prides himself on his 3.96 GPA entering this year. He wants to be remembered "as a smart player." He also has a keen interest in studying mechanical engineering in college and concedes it's "probably true" the quality of a school's engineering department will affect his decision.
Provided schools fitting that description are interested. Then again, who wouldn't be?
Not only is Oghobaase pegged as a potential impact player out of the gate in college, he could be on campus in time for 2005 spring practice since he plans to graduate high school in December to get a jump on his collegiate career.
"He'll be in college for the second semester of this academic year," says Alief Hastings second-year head coach Wade Luker, 55. "He'll be there through spring training. He'll learn the system and mature some more. In the fall, he'll be good to go. He wants to go on to play pro football, and I see him doing that. He's got all the tools."
"I'll get to that first practice (this spring) and everybody will be good," says Oghobaase, who, despite being wide open on his college decision, has received scholarship offers from schools like Texas A&M, Miami, Florida, LSU and Oklahoma. "I gotta take it in stride and work hard and everything will level out. I'm ready and mature enough for this jump right now."
Fact is, Oghobaase's status as one of the nation's top high school football recruits is nothing short of amazing considering his first varsity season was the Bears' 2-8 campaign last fall. The coaching staff kept him on JV as a sophomore, figuring he'd develop with playing time rather than warm the varsity bench backing up a rotation of four senior defensive tackles.
They were right. At his best stuffing the run, Oghobaase is a gifted reader of plays, consistently beating his man to the point of attack. Lightning quick off the snap, he deftly separates from blockers and closes to the ball with ferocity.
"He's got the innate ability to explode off the ball," says Luker. "I don't know if any of the teams and kids we come up against can sustain contact with him one-on-one."
Oghobaase has always been a playmaker. The only difference these days is the enthusiasm he demonstrates afterwards.
"It used to be, he'd make a play, put his head down and go back to the huddle," says Luker. "Now that he's got a little recognition, I guess you could say he'll get up and show his stuff a little. He plays with more enthusiasm and intensity than ever. And after spending half his high school career trying to make an impression just to get to the varsity level, that's amazing to me."
But to the coach who knows him best — Luker worked with the freshman and JV defensive lines during Oghobaase's first two seasons — what's most impressive is the teen's perspective.
"I got him as a puppy, and I've watched him grow and develop," says Luker. "And he's always been a class act. You can't say that for a lot of kids that follow the same path. He's always done things the right way. Even at his size and as a senior and with all this recognition, he always communicates with me and he always listens."
What else would you expect? After all, Oghobaase says he's "always been serious about football." And smart, serious football players always do things the right way.
"I just take it all in stride," he says. "I don't listen to what other people say. Everybody has their opinions. I've put in hard work and determination, and it's paid off, and that's a blessing. I figure if I play hard, everything will fall into place. I know what I did to get to this point. I know what I need to do to go further."
Meanwhile, the rest of us would be wise not to take his kindness lightly.