Cousins on the rise

The 6'4" and 310 pound offensive tackle Oniel Cousins took an unusual route to the NFL – he did not even set foot on the gridiron until his sophomore year in high school and then he changed positions\ several times. Cousins, a native of Jamaica, moved to the United States when he was 15 years old.

He had never played football before; soccer was his primary sport. After being in the U.S. for just one year, Cousins started playing football for his high school, Eastern Christian, in Fullerton, California.

"Someone talked me into it," said Cousins about how he began playing football. "I used to be a soccer player. Somebody introduced me to it [football], I gave it a shot and I fell in love with the game, and I've been playing ever since."

Cousins quickly picked up the game of football and was named all-conference honorable mention in his first season as a defensive lineman. His early success led to the expansion of his role in his junior year where he played both defensive and offensive lines. That year, he shed the honorable mention tag and was tabbed as an all-conference defensive lineman. Cousins continued to progress and, in his senior year, he not only again received an all-conference selection, but was also given the team honor as defensive MVP.

However, while the game came very easy to Cousins in high school, the transition to college was not as smooth. He went to University of Texas at El Paso and redshirted his first year. In Cousins' second attempt at a freshman season, he only saw limited playing time in two games as a reserve defensive tackle. Cousins then switched to offensive tackle in his sophomore year, but again, he did not see the field much.

The next year, Cousins matured and slowly began to understand the nuances of the college game. As a result, he started at left tackle during his fourth year on the team and the offense took off. Cousins helped man the quarterback's blind side for the fifth ranked passing offense in the country and the Miners set school records in passing yards (3754), completions (290) and passing touchdowns (29). Cousins changed positions again in his final season and became a permanent fixture at right tackle.

Cousins credits his first sport, soccer, for his speed and solid footwork.

"I think it has a little bit, because we did a lot of running when we played soccer, a lot of speed stuff," said Cousins about how soccer has helped his footwork for football.

Following Cousins' senior season, he was invited to play in the Senior Bowl (a week-long all-star showcase that enables college seniors to play in front of pro scouts). There, he flashed great agility for an offensive lineman, while also holding his own against some of the top NFL prospects.

Despite being considered raw and more of an athlete than a football player by many scouts, the Baltimore Ravens selected Cousins in the third round of the NFL draft at pick 99.

"Oniel is an outstanding athlete," said Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta. "We think he has a lot of upside and should develop over time. He probably needs to get a little stronger, but we think the tools are there.

"He's a worker and has got the right temperament. He's a nasty player and we think he competes right away at the right tackle spot."

After immigrating to this country and learning to use his Jamaican football (soccer) skills to play American football, Cousins has finally found his home and his position in Baltimore.

Hank Nathan is a guest columnist for Ravens Insider and a journalism student at Washington & Lee.

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