STILLWATER — Florida State’s Jameis Winston dragged himself off the deck, eyes looking confused about just who had planted him into the AT&T Stadium turf.
Emmanuel Ogbah, that’s who.
Ogbah — pronounced AWG-buh — introduced himself Saturday night. To the Heisman Trophy holder Winston and the touted FSU offensive line. To many Oklahoma State fans.
And to much of America.
The guy in the curious No. 38. The guy with the intriguing name.
The guy who came to play on the big stage.
“That was great to see that,” said Jimmy Bean, who plays opposite Ogbah at defensive end. “I’m proud.
“I feel like it’s been a long time coming for him. He’s getting his chance, and a lot of people are going to see what he can do.”
By Monday morning, ESPN’s Skip Bayless raved about OSU’s array of athletes making plays, which certainly includes Ogbah.
By Tuesday morning, Ogbah carried the voting as the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Week after totaling six tackles, two sacks and two pass breakups against the Seminoles in his first career start.
There will be many more starts to come for the sophomore defensive end.
Perhaps many more Player of the Week honors, too.
Still, exactly who is Emmanuel Ogbah, who’s quickly becoming a major factor on a talented defensive front that already had known quantities in Bean and James Castleman?
He’s interesting, to say the least. And Cowboys coach Mike Gundy ratcheted up the interest level Monday, suggesting that by the time Ogbah is done at OSU, he could be the best defensive end of Gundy’s tenure.
“I heard about that,” said Ogbah, his voice quickening. “I’m excited about that. I was surprised he said that, but I’m willing to keep working to get to that goal.”
Ogbah was born in Lagos, Nigeria, moving with his family to Houston at the age of 9. At that age, he said, the transition to a new country and culture was more exciting than daunting.
“I was still pretty young, so I was just excited to interact with people and see how the new world was,” Ogbah said. “It was pretty smooth.”
Pretty soon, he found himself attracted to football, partly because it was the thing to do.
“I started playing in seventh grade,” he said. “All my friends were playing. I thought it would be fun, so I just tried it.”
His older brother had played, too, which is how Ogbah came about adopting the No. 38, in a roundabout sort of way.
“The real story behind the No. 38,” Ogbah said, “my brother played football, too; he wore the No. 38 in high school. And my sophomore year, guys would say, ‘Ogbah sucked.’ They were talking about my brother.
“I said, ‘I’m going to change the Ogbah name.’ So I decided to wear that number my whole career.”
Ogbah became a name-changer and a game-changer.
At George Bush High School, he was a finalist for the Greater Houston Area Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He was only rated a three-star recruit and well down the list of top-100 defensive ends, drawing interest from Arizona, Texas Tech and a few others.
Still, Cowboys coaches saw something they liked, and they had an in with Russell Okung, another player of Nigerian descent who had also attended George Bush High and then starred at OSU.
“That was a big influence,” Ogbah said. “I wanted to be just like Russell. He came out of my high school, was a first-round (NFL Draft) pick, the third pick. That really impressed me. I wanted to come out and put in the work to get to his level.”
When he contacted Okung, he heard the right things, too.
“He said, ‘You come here, prepare to work. They’ll treat you good. The coaches are great. We’ve got a great head coach. They’re going to treat you nice,’” Ogbah said.
Joe DeForest did the primary recruiting on Ogbah, but left to follow Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia. While Ogbah said there was a temptation to reopen his recruiting when DeForest left, he credited the relationship built by former Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill Young for keeping him firm with the Cowboys.
Ogbah arrived at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, and redshirted his first year, learning and bulking up.
He played in all 13 games a year ago, producing four sacks in a backup role. Now at 6-4, 270, he checks all the boxes of what a premium defensive end should look like.
And in the opener, his play was premium.
“I would say he has a chance to be as good as anybody we’ve had since I’ve been the head coach here,” said Gundy, who’s not prone to showering praise on first-year starters. “He’s really quick. He’s strong. His attitude’s good. His work ethic’s good. And he’s been very durable and tough.”
And he’s just a sophomore.
“I like that he’s a sophomore,” Gundy said, “that’s a good thing.”
OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer focuses more on the now.
“I just want him to be an authentic tough guy,” Spencer said. “A real genuine kid who cares more about others more than himself.
“After that, who knows? That story will be written this Saturday and the Saturday after that. I’m not going to put that on him.”
Still, Spencer admits that the Cowboys believe they have a good one.
“So far, he hasn’t disappointed,” he said.
And it appears to go beyond the field.
Ogbah was selected by Gundy for the team’s Leadership Council, a group made up of representatives from each class that facilitates a positive locker room and serves as a liaison between the players and staff.
“It means I’m doing something right,” Ogbah said.
Actually, it means he’s doing a lot right.
“He just plays,” Gundy said. “It’s enjoyable to be around players who just go out and play. And they don’t talk a lot and get caught up in everything going on out there in the sideshow. He just plays.”
Against Florida State, he played and produced on the big stage. And he wants more, much more.
“It means a lot, but I feel like it’s just a stepping stone to my main goals that I’m trying to reach,” Ogbah said. “Coming into the season, my goal was to be an All-American, an All-Big 12 player.
“And in doing that, I want to help my team. I want to lead my team.”