Injured OL Oge Udeogu makes most of opportunity at Central Michigan
Oge Udeogu clenched the gold facemask of his maroon helmet between the fingers of his right hand and pumped it twice toward the sky.
He played the final down of his Chippewa career on a first-and-goal touchdown run by senior running back Jonathan Ward, his arm shattering as he landed on the turf beneath the weight of a Toledo defender.
He knew it was broken the second it happened.
With his broken left arm supported by a black air cast and both hands of a trainer walking step for step next to him, the Iowa State grad transfer acknowledged his teammates on the sideline one last time before sauntering toward the tunnel adjacent to the Chippewa Champions Center construction site.
"Going down and walking off, I wanted to make sure I gave a message to my teammates," Udeogu said. "Let them know I'm with them, I'll be with them, you know, and we're taking this all the way."
Once inside the tunnel, Udeogu hurled his helmet down the corridor. Glossy maroon paint was chipped as the Riddell SpeedFlex model bounced multiple times against the cement walkway, which is covered by a rubber mat in order to maintain the quality of player's cleats.
"It breaks my heart," said first-year coach Jim McElwain. "He's a guy that joined us as a couple of these guys have and really made us better. The guys love him. We love him."
For McElwain, the goal is now to have him ready when Central Michigan's pro day, an opportunity for Chippewa draft hopefuls to work out in front of NFL scouts, comes around at a yet to be determined date.
To fully understand the frustration behind Udeogu's helmet heave, one must first grasp the journey he has had to travel. It spans over two countries, three colleges and numerous setbacks.
As is the case with a lifetime in football, Udeogu stayed the course in search of an opportunity.
Udeogu's father, Raphael, migrated from Nigeria to Schamberg, Illinois, when he was 18 years old in pursuit of a dream. He earned a degree from Howard University in mechanical engineering and got a job with Motorola.
Raphael is the father of three sons: Oge, Ugo and Chinedu. Shortly following Oge's first grade year, his father uprooted the family due to Motorola offering him a job back in his home country of Nigeria.
After spending the majority of his childhood in Imo, Nigeria, Udeogu moved back to Chicago, lived with his aunt, and enrolled at St. Viator High School. It was there where he made a name for himself, his massive size drawing attention from numerous areas across the country.
Ultimately, the oldest Udeogu chose to attend the City College of San Francisco, a junior college. He used the 2014 and 2015 seasons to build a bigger platform for himself, winning back-to-back Northern California championships while becoming a three-star recruit. Upon leaving the NJCAA level, he picked Iowa State from a handful of suitors.
After taking a redshirt in 2016 to adjust to the Division I level, Udeogu was poised to compete for a starting job on Iowa State's offensive line. He was putting together a solid fall camp when a curveball was thrown his way.
A triceps injury near his elbow would require surgery, causing him to miss the 2017 season.
"Up until then, I was the starter," Udeogu said. "After meeting with the trainers and the coach, the smartest decision was for me to get surgery."
Another setback was hurled his way when the Cyclones' offensive line coach, Tom Manning, left to coach in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts.
Udeogu had worked hard to earn the favor of Manning and his departure, paired with the injury not being fully healed, led him to take a medical redshirt and seek a new opportunity with his final year of eligibility.
During the spring, Udeogu scheduled to take visits to UMass, Central Michigan, Fresno State, Houston, FIU and Colorado State. When he announced his intentions to transfer, he figured his decision would be made around mid-April.
Upon setting foot in Mount Pleasant, no other school was in the running.
"It was a great coaching staff and the best fit for me," Udeogu told Central Michigan Life after announcing his decision to play for the Chippewas. "It was a great situation all around for me."
During his time with the Cyclones, Udeogu had never played a down. The impact he would have on the Chippewas, who were coming off a 1-11 season, was uncertain due to his lack of experience.
The addition proved to pay dividends, as Udeogu was part of an offensive line that trotted out the same five starters in each of the 12 regular season contests. He proved to be a mainstay at right guard, paving holes for the duo of Ward and sophomore Kobe Lewis.
One thing that didn't change: commitment to family. Each of his two brothers also played football at the collegiate level, with Ugo having recently graduated from Butler and Chinedu suiting up at Cal. His parents, meanwhile, still reside in Nigeria.
"Before every game, I call them," Udeogu said. "They're seven hours away. I'll say a prayer with them, say good luck. It means a lot."
His season ending injury comes just one week before the MAC championship game, meaning the Chippewas will have to replace arguably their best offensive lineman in their biggest game.
Neither McElwain nor Udeogu is worried about a possible setback. McElwain cited players such as freshmen Danny Motowski and Deiyantei Powell-Woods and redshirt freshman Tyden Ferris as capable replacements.
"That's one of the reasons you play the guys you play," McElwain said. "(They've) all played a bunch of snaps and that's a good thing. We do that for that reason."
Though Udeogu won't play a snap in this championship contest, this season as a whole has offered the vindication he's sought from the game of football since he first strapped up a helmet.
He'll walk onto the field with the rest of his teammates on Saturday, arm supported by a sling. Udeogu may never play another snap of football again, but thanks to his time at Central Michigan, the sport he loves will never be accompanied by a series of 'what if's.'
This season offered him closure an opportunity to show not only the world what he is capable, but himself as well.
"It's been awesome to get out there, be out there with a group of guys who just love to go out every week and fight," Udeogu said. "It's been a great learning experience for me and just, overall, I'm really happy, really satisfied with the opportunity.
A ring on his finger would make this journey all the more worth it.