It's easy to read. Pick up the transcript -- it's right there in black-and-white. The kid didn't have the grades. He couldn't cut it. He couldn't handle high school, how could he handle an academic workload at a Big Ten school?
And remember, Penn State and Joe Paterno aren't just any other college. The coach kicks players off the travel squad, and he's kept players home from bowl games for skipping classes.
Forget about him.
He's no recruit. Find some other big kid, and make sure he has the grades.
That would have been the easy thing to do, but a college coach kept poking around asking questions -- and the more he learned the more he
knew the black-and-white marks on the paper didn't match up to the potential.
Penn State assistant coach Brian Norwood just knew he had found a Nittany Lion football player. The type of player who could be molded by defensive line coach Larry Johnson. A man Norwood
calls "the best defensive line coach I've ever been around." He's a tough man who demands, more, more, more -- and in return becomes something like a father-figure to the men he coaches.
Ollie Ogbu could be that type of player. He just needed another chance.
Ogbu doesn't explain the feeling. How do you explain a feeling anyway?
He just knew it.
It was a quiet belief that came from deep inside. A belief that he shouldn't accept a sure thing. A belief that a kid from Staten Island could do better and play a role in something bigger. And if it meant postponing college for one year, and attending a preparatory school in the
middle of nowhere -- he would try it.
Because he believed it.
There are no excuses. Not from this 21-year-old. He doesn't talk about his brother. He doesn't talk about a two-hour commute just to reach his high school. He doesn't talk about being raised by immigrant parents and trying to fit in. He offers only one answer. He didn't have the grades out of high school to attend Penn State.
To prove himself, Ogbu traveled out of one of the five boroughs to a place where the houses aren't stacked on top of each other, to New Berlin, N.Y.
Not quite the Finger Lakes region. Not quite the Adirondacks. He traveled to a sort of no-man's land in upstate New York, somewhere south of Utica. The town lies 18 miles from Cooperstown. He traveled to Milford Academy.
Why did he do it?
That's not so easy to pin down either.
That played a part.
Or maybe it was something more.
His high school coach at St. Joseph by-the-Sea remembered a student who seemed undaunted by challenges. Football, school, he wanted more.
"It's like a puppy," Sea football coach Greg Manos said. "It's almost as if he's always at you, asking, 'Make me better! Make me better!'"
Milford kept feeding that quest.
"There are only two reasons to go there," said Norwood, the Baylor defensive coordinator, who recruited Ogbu while working as a Penn State assistant. "You're either going there to become a good student-athlete, in that order. Student first. Because there's nothing there. Or you're going there because you like being in Siberia."
Go back. Go back to Ogbu's days at the Sea.
"People ask me all the time if I'm surprised that Ollie's playing for No. 3-ranked Penn State," Manos said. "And I tell them, no. The reason Penn State is ranked No. 3 is because of Ollie. That's no joke. I'm not joking here."
Manos remembers one of his first weight room outings with Ogbu. The boy benched 135 pounds. Two weeks later he could bench 225. A year later he could bench 405 pounds.
College coaches saw the raw talent, the undeniable strength.
Not all of them understood the grades, however, and the effort Ogbu made to even attend high school.
The son of Nigerian immigrants, Ogbu wasn't a play-football-since berth type of kid. His classmates commuted to school, on average, about 30 minutes -- Manos estimated. Ogbu's commute lasted two hours because he lived on the opposite side of the island.
He made sacrifices to attend a prestigious academic school, and he made sacrifices to play football. He tried to do it all.
The school has strict academic standards. Of the 75 members of the school's faculty, four also teach at local colleges.
"This isn't your typical high school," Manos said.
Norwood understood it.
The two men developed a bond.
Ogbu knows it doesn't sound right.
He was a student.
But the Penn State assistant was a baby-faced rising star in coaching ranks. Norwood was much older than he looked, evident by the fact his son played on the college team where he coached.
Even so, Ogbu and Norwood became friends.
"Really good friends," Ogbu clarified.
Norwood began following Ogbu during his sophomore year in high school, after the father of a Penn State recruit mentioned his name. Some 260-pound defensive lineman was fast enough to play tailback down in the city.
The two men, coach and student, bonded.
"He was honest," Ogbu said about why he latched onto Norwood and Penn State.
They talked about grades, and Ogbu's past shortcomings. Norwood didn't make it sound easy. He made it sound like something harder, a responsibility.
"You're going to have obligations," Ogbu remembered Norwood telling him.
The coach didn't see a poor student. He saw a young man affected by a tragedy.
"He had a brother he lost," Norwood said. "That's one of those things. Ollie was a very bright young man, and his brother was like king of the school."
Adam Ogbu ran track, and set records on relay teams. He played running back on the football team. Younger students would later tell teachers how Adam had protected them from being picked on by older students.
He died performing a training run at a military base in Texas on March 6, 2000. Manos said an undetected heart defect triggered the sudden death.
Ollie attended St. Joseph's by-the-Sea on a scholarship named in honor of his older brother.
Norwood thought, here is a young man who experienced adversity and kept taking on more challenges. He wanted to go to prep school, he needed to prove he belonged at a place like Penn State.
"It's hard to do something when you know you can do better, like, 'Why am I not putting all my effort to being at the highest level?'" Ogbu said.
Here is the type of player defensive line coach Larry Johnson would love.
The tag of raw talent changed when Ogbu went to prep school, one more Division I recruit on a team comprised of blue-chip talent. He didn't have it easy.
"He needed to work on everything," said Milford head coach William Chaplick, a former offensive lineman at Boston College. "He learned how to play football here."
Chaplick saw a player not blessed with great height, but a player who could stay low and use leverage to out-maneuver taller and heavier offensive lineman. He could be a beast. Off the field, he was the type of kid who walked around with a smile on his face. The type of kid who made a coach smile.
"I'll never forget that day we went to Penn State," Chaplick said with a laugh. After he got there and met Coach Paterno, he shook his hand and told him he was going to Penn State.
"Paterno sort of looked around and said, 'Well, I got my recruit for the day.' It was probably Coach Paterno's easiest recruit in 50 years of coaching."
He is now one of the young faces on the Nittany Lions' surprising defensive line. Penn State dismissed two defensive line starters in the preseason. It lost its star linebacker to a knee injury in the spring. Another two key defensive lineman sat the bench after marijuana had been found at an apartment.
No one would have predicted Penn State would rank No. 2 in the Big Ten in total defense. No one would have predicted a national title chase.
That was not a total shock. The former Penn State assistant. ... a high school coach from the city ... an old offensive lineman coaching in Upstate New York -- they expected this.
But the young man who traveled from Staten Island to New Berlin to State College knew it would happen. He's the big man clogging up the middle, wrecking offenses and awaiting the next challenge.