Oct. 5, 2008
Jonathan Mann, Texas Media Relations
During Saturday night's 38-14 victory over Colorado, the public address announcer at Folsom Field never quite picked up the pronunciation of the last name of senior RB Chris Ogbonnaya.
For the record, it's "O-bon-EYE-ah," but one thing that was evident was that the slips did not come from a lack of practice based on the number of times his name was called, and not one of them diminished the fact that every time he touched the ball, he made a play.
When it was all said and done, Ogbonnaya established career highs with 71 rushing yards, nine carries, 116 receiving yards and six receptions, while scoring a touchdown both on the ground and through the air.
His 65-yard touchdown catch on UT's first drive of the evening was a career-long. His 111 first-half receiving yards were the most in a half of any Texas running back, and his total of 116 was second all-time. He even saved six points as he tracked down a Colorado defensive back following a first-quarter interception.
Ogbonnaya is the senior leader of the Horns' four-back attack, all of who have contributed this season, with the emphasis varying from game to game based on the production of the night. Saturday in Boulder, it was Ogbonnaya's night.
"We understand that at the running back position, somebody is going to have the hot hand every night," said running backs coach Major Applewhite. "Chris had it last night."
Catching the football is nothing new for the fifth-year senior from Missouri City, Texas.
"I was recruited as a wide receiver and it's always been something I've taken a lot of pride in, catching the football," Ogbonnaya said.
His dual-threat capability has been a valuable tool for the Texas coaches, allowing them to use him in various ways. Not to mention he has sacrificed for the team to participate in every special team at various times this year and still focuses on the kickoff return and punting units.
"He allows for a lot of versatility and flexibility in our personnel groupings and formations," Applewhite said. "You can flank him out in the wide receiver position or bring him back in the backfield to play a more traditional tailback role."
Ogbonnaya lowered his weight before the 2008 season in an attempt to improve upon his speed and quickness, but while also focusing on maintaining his power. The transformation was evident Saturday in Boulder as he ripped off big gains out of the backfield, including a 13-yard touchdown run just before halftime, and broke several tackles before turning on his speed for a 51-yard scamper during the third quarter. The latter of those plays followed Colorado's first TD that made the score 28-7 and almost instantly recaptured the glimpse of momentum the Buffaloes took from the score.
"It's the same thing that I've been doing, making sure my legs are strong," Ogbonnaya said of his offseason weight loss. "This is a tough conference, so you have to be ready. You have to be strong, fast and physical."
The arrival of Applewhite to the coaching staff has also been beneficial for Ogbonnaya.
"I think I've picked up on the football jargon a little more from him, understanding the game as a whole and not just from a running back's perspective," he said of his new position coach.
Ogbonnaya's roommate, offensive tackle Adam Ulatoski, defines him as a "goofy guy" off the field. Ultimately, however, Ogbonnaya's intellect is what characterizes him.
"He's just a really intelligent guy," Ulatoski said. "That's one of Chris's best attributes. When we have blitz pick-up, he's going to be in the right spot every time. He's going to do exactly what he's supposed to do. He's very reliable."
Ogbonnaya's aptitude, however, isn't confined to the football field. Last week, he was named as a national semifinalist for the Draddy Trophy, an award also known as the "academic Heisman."
"It definitely means a lot," Ogbonnaya said of his semifinalist status for the award. "[Winning it] would probably be the pinnacle of everything for me because I take a lot of pride in my academics."
In addition to his outstanding recent play and academic success, Ogbonnaya works hard to uphold what's expected of him as a senior leader. Whether it's leading by example on the field or providing insight in the meeting room, the veteran keeps his focus on the ultimate team goals.
"I just answer the questions that the guys have," Ogbonnaya said. "I just want us to be consistent at what we do and make sure that we stay ahead with each [personnel] change."
"At practice, if he sees a lull, he'll speak up when need be," Applewhite said. "The good thing about Chris is he's a likeable guy. It's easy to take criticism and coaching from someone who is likeable. He's a good person, he's smart, he knows how to articulate his thoughts on the football field and he understands how to translate his intensity to the other guys."
When it comes down to it, he couldn't care less how you say his name. He's just thankful for the chance to don the burnt orange and tote the football.
"A lot of people don't have the opportunity to play the game we play and play at a place like The University of Texas," Ogbonnaya said. "To be in that position feels good. I just want to continue to work hard and win football games."