BOCA RATON – He’s the last link, and he’s about to play his final game.
Shalom Ogbonda’s roots with the FAU football program date back to when Howard Schnellenberger was still the Owls’ coach.
During the summer of 2011, Obonda, then about to become a high school senior in Sugarland, Tex., contacted FAU about potentially playing for the Owls.
The email made its way to Jared Allen, then the Owls’ quarterbacks coach, who liked what he saw in the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Ogbonda’s highlight video.
Born in England to a family of Nigerian decent before moving to the United States, Ogbonda wasn’t the typical South Florida recruit the Owls generally pursued. That didn’t sway Allen, who eventually visited the Ogbonda family in Texas.
“I remember his mom sent me home with this Nigerian snack – these little cookies,” Allen said. “It was fun.”
Obonda and Allen formed an immediate bond, giving Ogbonda reason believe in Schnellenberger, too.
“It was really the type of guy Jared Allen was and still is,” Ogbonda said. “Just some of the principles that he lives by is stuff that I saw in coach. If I can see that in a coach that’s exactly who I want to be surrounded with.”
At a time when early commits to FAU were rare, Ogbonda became the first member of the 2012 recruiting class by pledging his services to the Owls that summer, choosing FAU in large part because of its South Florida location and because FAU was starting a medical school.
“I like how it’s a new program trying to be great,” Ogbonda told OwlAccess.com shortly after committing. “(FAU has) an excellent head coach and they are playing some of the best teams in the country with an aspiration to beat them.”
Ogbonda never did get to play for that excellent head coach.
A couple months after Ogbonda committed, Schnellenberger announced he would retire following that 2011 season.
Even as new offers came, Ogbonda still wanted to keep his commitment to FAU and Jared Allen, and new Florida Atlantic head coach Carl Pelini honored that commitment.
“When Schnellenberger announced that he was resigning I stayed with FAU because coach Allen was still there – and that was even before I took the visit to campus,” Ogbonda said. “That speaks volumes for the type of guy coach Allen is.”
Five years later, Ogbonda is sure he made the right choice.
“It’s been a blessing,” Ogbonda said. “Football is a great sport. It’s given me a great opportunity on the field and academically. I’m forever thankful to FAU for this opportunity.”
He’s also kept that bond with Allen, now the Owls’ running backs coach.
“Shalom, he can come talk to me about anything,” Allen said.
FAU life hasn’t always been smooth. Counting the commitment to Schnellenberger’s Owls, Ogbonda has ties to all four head coaches in program history.
He’s seen Pelini, the coach who ultimately signed him, leave mid-season amid drug allegations. Brian Wright stepped in and led FAU to four wins in as many games, but Wright didn’t get the permanent job. That went to current head coach Charlie Partridge, who has led the Owls to only nine wins in three years and may not see a fourth.
He’s also played for four different position coaches, crediting current defensive line coach Terrance Jamison with teaching the importance of proper footwork and the right pre-snap stance.
“He’s always made sure I was paying attention to the little things,” said Ogbonda, who is now working toward his Master’s degree in health administration.
Never much more than a role player for the Owls during his first four years in Boca Raton, Ogbonda has come into his own during his redshirt senior season.
Though more of a defensive end out of high school, Ogbonda moved to the interior of the defensive line early in his FAU career. The 45 tackles he’s recorded this season nearly match his total from the previous three years on the field combined.
Heading into his final game he’s playing the best football of his career, coming off a career-high 10 tackles on Saturday against Old Dominion.
“He’s really learned this year how to become a top notch practice player,” Partridge said. “He’s really upped his level play in and play out of playing at a high level in practice. Pushing through challenging times on the practice field is going to make a huge difference for you on game day. To Shalom’s credit he’s really stepped up in that regard.”
Both Partridge and Allen noted that Ogbonda’s surge over the second half of the season is prompting inquiries from NFL scouts who visit Boca Raton.
“I just want to get my foot in the door and see how that opportunity goes,” Ogbonda said.