Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Georgia State University's Emmanuel Ogbuehi, a Mill Creek grad, made the team after the first tryout session and is now starting for the Panthers. Ogbuehi caught the first touchdown pass in team history on Sept. 2.
When Emmanuel Ogbuehi first decided to attend Georgia State University in 2008, playing college football was among the last things on his mind.
After a solid, if not spectacular, athletic career at Mill Creek High School, he was content to simply work on a degree in chemistry and toward his eventual goal of becoming a pharmacist.
THE OGBUEHI FILE
Who: Emmanuel Ogbuehi
College: Georgia State
High school: Mill Creek
Class: Redshirt sophomore
• Started at tight end in the first two games in Georgia State football history
• Caught the first touchdown pass in GSU history, a 4-yard reception from Drew Little, in the Panthers’ 41-7 win over Shorter University on Sept. 2
• Is one of only three players from multiple walk-on tryout combines to make the GSU team, and is the only one from the original combine in the fall of 2008 to make the team
• Played football, basketball and track while at Mill Creek. Led the Hawks’ basketball team in rebounding (5.1 per game) in his senior season
But the rapid fire of announcements by the university later in the year — to start a football team, the hiring of Bill Curry as its first head coach and that walk-on tryouts would begin later that fall — changed everything.
“(Football) wasn’t on my mind at all, but when I heard a football team was coming to Georgia State, I figured I could be a part of that,” Ogbuehi said. “When I first heard about football, it was late in the fall semester of my freshman year. I thought, ‘Maybe I should try out.’ And people kept encouraging me. So, I decided to give it a shot.”
That best shot has hit the mark.
Through two games, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound redshirt sophomore has made plenty of history in GSU’s debut season.
In addition to being the Panthers’ first starting tight end, he was on the receiving end of the first touchdown pass in school history — a 4-yard scoring strike from Drew Little in GSU’s 41-7 win over Shorter in front of more than 30,000 fans at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 2.
It’s a long way from where Ogbuehi was during that first semester at GSU in 2008, though it didn’t take long for such glory to creep into his imagination, even during those early days of walk-on tryouts.
“I always had a dream (of making the team),” Ogbuehi said. “I was in awe (in the first game). It was not so much a surprise as it was what I’d been waiting for — the first game. All these people here. It was a really good feeling.”
Still, Ogbuehi’s chances of even being in a GSU uniform, let alone a starter, had to have been seen as a longshot when those initial tryouts began in the fall of 2008.
Injuries to both ankles hampered his career at Mill Creek. In fact, he was probably as much known for his accomplishments on the basketball court — he led the Hawks in rebounding (5.1 per game) his senior season — and on the track rather than on the football field.
And while there were plenty of walk-ons among the 88 players suited up for the Panthers in their game against Lambuth last Saturday, he is one of only three on the current roster who participated in any of the multiple tryout combines Curry and his staff held in the two years leading up to the inaugural season.
And Ogbuehi is the only player who participated in the original combine in the fall of 2008 still with the team.
“I look out there and I see Brent (McClendon, another redshirt sophomore who came to walk-on tryouts in spring of 2009) starting at cornerback, he was out there with us as one of the first walk-ons,” Ogbuehi recalled about himself, McClendon and scout team linebacker Brandon Berry. “That first game was a good feeling. Being the first one out there starting and having to come so far, along with the other walk-ons, it’s a very good feeling.”
And it didn’t take long for Curry and his coaching staff to start getting a good vibe about Ogbuehi.
“We saw athleticism,” Curry said of his first impressions of Ogbuehi. “We knew he was physically good enough to play.”
Still, Ogbuehi initially tried out at wide receiver, the position he played at Mill Creek.
But his willingness to accept the suggestion for him to move to tight end — and more importantly, to not give up — showed Curry something else.
“Then we saw overall persistence,” Curry said. “(He) just (kept) showing up at the office. Then when we studied him, we found out he was a chemistry major, and that he’s brilliant.
“Since then, we’ve found he’s also very persistent. He just keeps on coming out and working hard. He’s one of those guys who have markedly improved pretty much every week he’s been with us.”
That improvement earned him offensive “Most Improved” and “Offensive Dominator” awards from the coaching staff during spring practice this past April.
It also helped him earn the starting job over two more experienced tight ends, including Auburn transfer Bailey Woods, in the preseason.
“He has earned his spot because he can do a whole lot,” Curry said. “The other tight ends are good players, but he’s just a special guy.”