Umenyiora, who had arrived in this country only two years earlier after spending his first 14 in London and Nigeria, was skeptical.
"At first, when you're looking at it from the outside, football just looks like a whole bunch of confusion, people hitting each other," he said. "But once you get into the game and you see what each person does, that everybody has their own responsibilities, it starts to make sense." As a junior at Auburn (Ala.) High, Umenyiora proved a quick study. A defensive tackle, he played well enough to draw recruiting interest from Troy State and Samford. He settled on Troy State, where he was moved to defensive end, and as a freshman made his first sack from that position against Nebraska.
"I got up and I was running all over the place," he said. "I think they gave me a penalty on that. But there's nothing better than getting a sack." The 6-3, 278-pound Umenyiora made 16 sacks as a senior. He displayed considerable athleticism in introducing himself to the NFL at February's scouting combine. And he became the Giants' second-round draft pick in the April 26 draft. So much for his initial skepticism. No Troy State player has ever been drafted so high.
"I have every physical capability that can be had," Umenyiora said during the Giants' May 2-4 rookie minicamp.
Include confidence among those attributes. Umenyiora might have played at tiny Troy State, which made its transition to Division I-A over the last few years, but he's never felt like he should limit himself. And that feeling has been instilled in him since birth.
Umenyiora's full first name, Ositadinma, means, "From today, things will be good" in Igbo. The Giants, obviously, are hoping Osi lives up to his name.
"I like him. He's an athlete," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "He's got quickness and a burst."
"He does show a lot of quickness," Defensive Line Coach Denny Marcin added. "Everything we do is so handcuffed out there (at rookie minicamp), but he showed good things on pass rush. He's picking up everything, he runs well. In the early going, he's right where I think he should be." Umenyiora was happy to hear that.
"I learned a lot," he said. "Now when the veterans come back, at least I'll know where to line up."
Of course, he will be expected to do much more than that. Like first-round pick William Joseph, Umenyiora will be needed to spell the starters along the defensive line this season, when the Giants hope and expect to have better depth than they did last year, when the line was frequently felled by injury and attrition.
Fassel said he wants the rookies "to come in and help us, to function at a winning level." Assuming all goes well, Umenyiora will be part of a rotation, able to back up either starting end Kenny Holmes on the right or Michael Strahan on the left. He played on both sides during his college career and Marcin believes he will be able to continue to do so.
Umenyiora is looking forward to learning from Strahan, another small college guy (Texas Southern) who spent part of his youth overseas (Germany) whom the Giants plucked out of the draft's second round (in 1993).
"When I watch football, I don't really watch football anymore; I just watch defensive ends," he said. "And (Strahan's) the guy everybody watches."
Umenyiora shook hands with Strahan and said hello but had yet to have a conversation with him. The rookie is looking forward to that, too. "From what I hear, he's a very nice, intelligent young man," Umenyiora said before smiling and correcting himself. "Well, not a young man." If Umenyiora was nervous during the minicamp, where he laughed and talked easily with his new teammates and the media, he never let on. His self-assuredness, he said, comes partly from knowing that he excelled against a difficult schedule that included major colleges such as Nebraska, Marshall, Iowa State and Mississippi State.
He also said his confidence has long been cultivated by his father, John, a businessman who lives in Nigeria but visits his wife and children in Georgia every couple months. Osi was born in London to Nigerian parents. After his mother left the family when he was an infant, his father and stepmother raised him.
When Osi was 8, the family moved to Nigeria. When he was 14, his parents sent him to live with his sister, Nkem, in Alabama. Five years his senior, she was in college at the time. Osi, who has 13 siblings, said his parents wanted a better education for all of their children.
None of the Umenyioras could have known that decision would spur a budding NFL career. Osi, who might not even know a Pop Warner league if he saw one, would never trade his unique background. "I think it works to my advantage because I still have a lot to learn," he said. "A lot of players are reaching their peak right now. I'm halfway there."
Where He Fits In
Umenyiora almost instantly becomes New York's third end, and will likely be given the opportunity to spell Michael Strahan right off the bat. He ran primarily at right end during rookie mini-camp, but has the speed and versatility to play either side. He's still raw, but expect him to be the first end off the bench sooner rather than later. Keith Washington, New York's other reserve end, is more of a run-stopper so when it's a passing down and either Strahan or Kenny Holmes needs a rest, look out for Osi.
"We wanted some speed to come off the edge and Osi gives us that. We had a couple scouts work him out. Steve Verderosa worked him out and timed him at 4.75. Joe Collins timed him at 4.6. A bunch of scouts had him at 4.6. The kid can really run. The thing he has that we really like is that speed off the edge. He's raw; he doesn't have an extensive background. But he has that number one thing you really want – speed off the edge." – Director of Player Personnel Jerry Reese