Tuesday, May 17, 2016

David Onmeyata Fitting In With New Orleans Saints

David Onyemata isn't acting much like an international celebrity.

Sure, his remarkable leap to the NFL is a big deal back in his native Nigeria. And it made national news in Canada when the New Orleans Saints drafted him in the fourth round out of the University of Manitoba, just five years after he first touched a football.

But for now, Onyemata is just trying to find his footing like all of the other rookies who made their debut in this past weekend's rookie minicamp.

"I'm still in the process of trying to make a name for myself. So (I'm not embracing the attention) right now," Onyemata said. "Maybe when I get there or maybe once I'm done with my career and I've done all the things I have planned."

Onyemata said he has heard stories about kids in Canada being inspired by his unlikely rise to the NFL, but he hasn't been flooded with calls from Nigerian journalists or anything like that. The texts home with mom and dad in Nigeria are the usual, "How's it going?" conversations.
And the answers to those questions include the usual highs and lows for a rookie making the leap from a small school.

Onyemata struggled with the heat on a particularly sweltering New Orleans afternoon on Friday, as he experienced some cramping.

He was able to laugh about it the next day, though. And Saints coach Sean Payton let him off the hook by saying that Onyemata was traveling from farther north than anyone else there.

Otherwise, Payton said Onyemata's adjustment has been fairly smooth, considering he has to adapt to some new rules (no more 1-yard cushion before the snap, like they have in Canada) and a new position. The Saints are working Onyemata at defensive end in their base 4-3 defense after he mostly played tackle in Canada. Onyemata could move inside in nickel packages.

"There's a little bit more of a learning curve -- twofold," Payton said, because of the position switch. "He had a little heat issue yesterday, but he's done a good job. I think he's picked things up, certainly from an experience standpoint it's just a bigger curve for him."

Onyemata said he hasn't experienced much of New Orleans yet outside of the hotel and the practice facility, so the cultural adjustment will come later. For now, he's got plenty on his plate.

"There is a big difference (from the Canadian game). We have like an extra guy and 1 yard off the ball, but I'm still learning," Onyemata said. "It's all a learning process to understand every single thing that's going on out there. So I'm just taking it a day at a time."

The Saints know they're getting a "raw" prospect, as defensive line coach Bill Johnson described him. Clearly, they felt like he has a talent worth developing, though.

Johnson was one of only two defensive line coaches who attended Onyemata's pro day in Canada. But as Johnson pointed out, Onyemata wasn't some great secret since he had performed well in the East-West Shrine Game.

Representatives from 17 teams were on hand to witness Onyemata's impressive pro day, in which he did 33 reps in the 225-pound bench press and posted a 33-inch vertical leap. His bench press would have tied for the most among all defensive linemen at the NFL combine.

"The kid just did everything ... so it was something we had to look at," Johnson said. "You do this for a lot of years and you go to a lot of workouts, you've got a lot to compare to. And obviously what he has, he has a lot of skill.

"He's raw, and everybody knows he's raw. But he's a guy that checked out as far as his character, he's willing to work, and we really tested him as far as learning was concerned. He was the type of guy that picked up things, he understood concepts. So here we are."

Onyemata's locker at Saints rookie minicamp was just around the corner from first-round draft choice Sheldon Rankins -- another defensive tackle, but one who is on the far side of the experience level after a stellar four-year career at Louisville.

Rankins has been plenty impressed by what he has seen from Onyemata, though, dating back to when they trained together in Los Angeles before the combine.

"We got to know each other real well out in L.A., I got to know his story," Rankins said. "When he told me, I really couldn't believe it. So yeah, that's pretty impressive to know he hasn't been playing that long, and look where he is, in a NFL locker room."

Rankins said Onyemata's "natural strength" is what has impressed him most.

"I think he doesn't know how strong he is," Rankins said. "And with proper coaching and further experience in football, the sky's the limit for him."

(Mike Triplett--ESPN Saints beat writer)


Anonymous said...

This guy is a monster. If he doesn't make NO, Riders got themselves a steal.

Anonymous said...

Jones and Murphy wasted a pick on this guy. There is no way he is ever playing in the CFL. He will be like the other guy who was from Manitoba and played for the Bears. I forget his name.


Anonymous said...

Jerry, you sound like such an expert.