Bison defender David Onyemata may be the
next big thing
SCOTT TAYLOR, Point After Magazine
Photos by JEFF MILLER, DAVE MacKAY, ADAM DOLMAN, JASON HALSTEAD AND JAMES CAREY LAUDER
This Friday Night, the University of Manitoba Bisons will play host to the University of Regina Rams at Investors Group Field. The player to watch on defence will probably be the largest man on the field. You just can’t miss David Onyemata.
University of Manitoba Bisons head coach Brian Dobie believes nose tackle David Onyemata could be “The Next One.” First there was Israel Idonije and now there is another: A huge defensive lineman who will definitely make a great CFL player, but he very well might be the next Bisons defender to make it to The League.
“We feel David is a can’t-miss CFL player who has a very legitimate chance to be an NFL player,” said Dobie with a straight face. “His off-season program is off the charts. It’s amazing to think his draft year isn’t for two more years. This year, I guarantee, he’ll be one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the nation.
“He has worked so hard on the field to learn the game. For a couple of years he was getting by on size and power and his athleticism and, I mean, athleticism. This guy is an athlete. Yeah, he’s huge and powerful, but he’s also an athlete. He is amazingly quick and he has NFL feet. Now he just needs to take a more cerebral approach to the game and he’s doing that.”
Sure, but at 6-foot-5, maybe 320 or 330 pounds, he’s really about size, strength and physical dominance. Bisons strength coach Matt Barr certainly believes he has what it takes to completely own offensive linemen this season.
“Well, first of all his forearms and biceps are bigger than most people’s quad,” said Barr. “He’s extremely strong, but you have to remember, he’s still developing. He is not a finished product by any means. He’s a freak of nature.”
Dobie has seen the “freak” part first hand.
“We have one of those machines in the weight room that measures power in pounds per square inch or something like that,” said Dobie, asking for forgiveness for his lack of professional weight training knowledge. “One afternoon I was in there and the guys were pushing this device and getting great scores, anywhere from 150 to 215. Some of our guys were really good.
“So I started to watch and then I piped in and said, ‘What about David?’ Well, David was with one of the coaches at the bench press. He was pressing a lot of weight and you could see he was near the end of his workout, but I said, ‘David, push this thing and see what you do.’ He got up, walked over to it, didn’t even take a breath and nearly pushed it through the wall. It read 246. Some guys were just disheartened. David is so strong, sometimes it takes your breath away.”
Dobie will never forget the day David Onyemata showed up at his office door. It was as if God himself had sent Dobie the heir to Israel Idonije.
“There was my knock on my door and when I opened it, I saw this 6-foot-5, 320-pound monster standing in front of me and immediately said, ‘I hope you’re a football player,’” Dobie laughed. “I can’t tell you how heartbroken I was when he said, ‘I’ve never played football in my life.’ But then he said he wanted to learn, and that intrigued me.”
It’s amazing how things turn out. When the University of Manitoba Bisons took on the Calgary Dinosaurs in the 77th Hardy Cup Game at McMahon Stadium last November, a great big kid who had never played a down of football in his life when he showed up at Dobie’s door, was suddenly thrust into the CIS spotlight. And people took notice.
Last season, he still wasn’t always a starter and yet he had, 25.5 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses and a sack. He’s come a long, long way for two big reasons: Dobie’s faith and his almost instant realization that you can’t teach size.
“He was big and I knew immediately he was a foreign student,” Dobie said. “We talked for a while and I sensed right away that this was a great kid, with a great heart who would put everything he had into learning the game.
“So I made him a deal. I told him that kids just don’t show up at the CIS level and play football. That just doesn’t happen. But I also knew that when we recruited Izzy (Idonije), he’d had only one year of football experience playing stand-up rush end in a rural small-school nine-man league in Brandon. I believed David could learn.
“But I also wasn’t in a position to spend a lot of time teaching him the game. So this is the deal I made. I said, ‘You will be invited out to practice. You will not play in games. We will have a coach or an injured player or a red-shirt player start teaching you what you need you know to be a defensive lineman. You will attend every practice and you will work hard in school. If you miss a practice, that’s it. I’m not going to waste my time or anyone else’s time teaching you the game if you’re not going to show up every day. Deal?’ He nodded and said we had a deal. I never expected anything to come of this experiment. To say I have been pleasantly surprised with David’s progress would be a gross understatement.
“All I can say to you is this: He’s special. He’s a really special young man. I truly believe that at the end of five years here, he will be drafted and will easily play in the CFL and maybe, just maybe, follow Izzy to the NFL.”
“I came from Lagos, Nigeria just to go to school,” Onyemata said. “I just wanted to leave home to go to school and take economics.
“I have two brothers in Nigeria, one in the U.K., and a sister in B.C.,” he said. “I wanted to come to Canada. I applied to a number of universities and I was accepted at a few, but someone I knew in South Africa told me about Coach Dobie and so I came here to see if I could play.”
Onyemata’s father is a successful Nigerian businessman. As a high school student in Nigeria, he played soccer and basketball. Many of the top African athletes who come to Canada and find success playing football have often been rugby players back home. Onyemata never played rugby and admits the only time he ever saw a North American football game came at those rare moments when the NFL was shown back in Nigeria.
“My friend from South Africa who told me about Coach Dobie said he was a good man who would give me a chance,” Onyemata said. “So he let me come to practice and I knew nothing. I’ve always been a big kid and when I saw American football I thought I could do what the linemen do. But I didn’t understand the game at all. The first time, I didn’t even understand what the stance was for. But I learned my stance and then people were so helpful, I just kept working hard and got better at it.”
Better at it? Dobie thinks there is more to it than just getting better.
“He’s special,” Dobie said. “His future is unlimited. He can be as great as he wants to be and he hasn’t shown us anything that doesn’t make me think he might be the most successful football player ever to come out of our program.”