An English Owl

Football’s London-born lineman is not your stereotypical jock. Working toward his second degree in five years, he’s taken a different path than most of his teammates.


Max Jackson

Mohammed F. Emran | Asst. Creative Director

Ryan Lynch, Sports Editor

Shalom Ogbonda’s favorite NFL player is retired defensive end Osi Umenyiora, with whom he shares more than just a position on the defensive line.

“We both were born in London,” Ogbonda said “He’s Nigerian like me, he also played at a mid-major school. He took the same path as me.”

The similarities don’t end there. Both started playing soccer before seeing a football field. Each redshirted in their freshman years and grew up in football-crazy states, with the Super Bowl champ growing up in Alabama, while the redshirt junior was raised in Texas.

The one thing that separates Ogbonda from the player he looks up to: his pursuit of a master’s degree.

Ogbonda, a defensive tackle for the Owls, previously graduated with a BA in psychology during this summer.

According to the NCAA, only 61 percent of FAU football players who showed up in the fall of 2007 finished their degree in six years. The national rate was 75 percent in that timeframe.

Ogbonda finished his first degree in just half that time. While working on his master’s in health administration, he is emerging as a veteran leader on the football team with two years left to play college football.

“That was my goal,” he said. “When I was redshirting, I realized I had to get a degree in three years and get my master’s before I left.”

The pursuit of a second degree is not the only thing that makes the Englishman with a slight accent different from his teammates. Born in the Lewisham area of London, Ogbonda became a first-generation citizen in England after his parents, Esther and Stanley, emigrated from their native Nigeria to continue their higher education in the UK.

As a child, Ogbonda was more likely to be found playing soccer than American football. He spent much of his free time on the pitch while rooting for his favorite professional team, Fulham FC.

“Yeah, I was a huge soccer fan,” Ogbonda reminisced. “I was devoted. That was all I played over there. I tried rugby for two years, but soccer was my sport.”

When he was 10, Ogbonda’s family made the move to Sugar Land, Texas. Stanley’s involvement with the Christian ministry was a major reason the family chose to move, as he was opening a branch of the Triumphant Church International in the Lone Star State.

With the crossing of the Atlantic came an introduction to a very new culture in a very different place.

“Some things were the same,” Ogbonda reflected. “But the culture is different. For example, I listen to country music.(I) Didn’t really do that in London. It’s there, you can listen to it, but it’s not like it is in Texas. A lot has changed, just being in the culture through high school.”

Shalom’s first introduction to football was watching games on television and playing Madden back in London. But starting football later than his peers was a challenge for a newcomer in a football-mad state.

Ogbonda said at first his parents were all about academics and initially were skeptical of him playing football. “I understand the importance of academics, but I’ve always loved sports and wanted to play them,” he said. “Once they saw that passion in me, they let me play.”

Putting much of his initial focus into soccer while he was in America, Ogbonda started to play football in middle school as a kicker and lineman on the school’s B team. As a freshman at Kempner High School, his focus shifted towards the gridiron.

“It wasn’t a totally new concept to me,” he said “But at the same time when you don’t play something, it’s going to be new. I didn’t have the instincts for the game, because I never played before.”

Ogbonda worked hard, learning the nuances of the game in four years with Kempner, while becoming a well-rounded individual. He also played soccer, got involved with both the criminal justice club and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a group he still visits when he’s home.

By graduation, Ogbonda had solidified himself as a valuable college prospect. As a senior he was placed on the all-district and all-Houston teams over guys who had been playing football their whole lives.

“I always knew Shalom had the potential to be a good football player. However, the British accent did throw me off a little,” Shalom’s former high school football coach Darrin Andrus joked. “He has those long arms and big frame and always worked hard in the weight room. Once he learned technique and how to use his body, he developed into the type of player that college coaches like.”

Coaches looked to pick up his raw athletic ability for their program. But Ogbonda ended up choosing Florida Atlantic for several reasons, including the weather and the Owls’ status as an a small program.

Shalom as a young soccer player. Photo courtesy of Shalom Ogbonda
Shalom as a young soccer player.
Photo courtesy of Shalom Ogbonda

“I liked the underdog character of FAU,” Ogbonda said “I liked the idea of building something, and I believe we’re on the verge of it happening real soon.

Trusting in his religious beliefs, Ogbonda knew he would be making the trip to South Florida.

“There were a lot of factors that helped make that choice. Coach Allen has the same type of beliefs as I have. When I saw that in him as a recruiter, I knew he would help me develop as both a man as well as a football player,” Ogbonda said.

During his first three years in Boca, Ogbonda took no less than 16 credits per semester and summer classes. Having to balance his football responsibilities and schooling, he used the support network around him to learn how to succeed.

“I’m going to put it this way: I’m not the smartest guy out there,” Ogbonda admitted. “It’s not really by myself that I’m able to do it. I go back to faith, I believe God helped me achieve that goal. But you also have to thank other people, like the coaches, for staying on top of me.”

His success also meant making sacrifices and taking accountability for himself and his limited time, making a list of tips so he could manage his time accordingly.

“It started with simple stuff,” Ogbonda said. “If you’re going out, make sure you do your homework before you leave. Finding a group of people you can study with, finding someone you can depend on to help you study and makes sure you get the material down. Thats what a lot of people mess up, they don’t have anyone staying on top of them.”

Ogbonda’s faith has also helped him stay disciplined and keep himself out of trouble. “Faith is huge,” he said. “All the decisions I make center around my beliefs. Thats what keeps me going, that’s what keeps me out of trouble. Without that, anything goes.”

Besides his teammates and coaches, Shalom has plenty of family support behind him. His two older sisters and older brother hold degrees in medicine, fashion and law, respectively. Much of his extended family also live in the states, graduating from institutions including Ohio State, Miami University of Ohio and Georgia Tech.

When he finds spare time, Ogbonda is involved with the psychology club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, loves to find good food and plays a ton of FIFA.

“I don’t believe anyone can beat me, that’s very rare,” Ogbonda said. “Jaquez [Johnson] is one of the few guys who can challenge me.”

Following in the path of his father, who manages an elderly care service in Texas, Ogbonda hopes to work his way into a hospital director position after graduating. But until he gets to that point, he feels there is some work to do.

“Ultimately,” Ogbonda said, “I would like to do that. I still have med school on my mind, but all of that is up in the air. Right now I’m just focusing on football and my masters.”