Sometimes the mountain a player has to climb doesn't involve a
difficult opponent or a week of grueling practice. Sometimes it's
much more personal and challenges his physical and mental
limitations in ways he hadn't before known.
Tunde Ogun and his Christopher Newport teammates came into the season with lofty expectations, conference title hopes and playoff desires. Ogun was coming off a season where he broke records rushing for 1,794 yards. He had every reason to reach his goals.
But on Sept. 5, Ogun was forced to reshape some of his goals. It wasn’t a matter of lowering expectations or settling. Goals, instead, became redefined.
“He’s done everything you can ask of him,” CNU coach Matt Kelchner said, “but it’s just been such an erratic year with everything that’s happened around him with the team.”
In the opening game on the road against Wesley, Ogun felt a slow pain easing into his knee. It “felt tweaked,” he said. But he questioned how to pinpoint the line between the usual bumps and bruises of game day and something more serious.
“As the game went on and on and on, it seemed like it was getting a lot stiffer, there was a lot of swelling,” the senior running back said last weekend. “I asked them to tape it up, and it just swelled right over the tape. By the end of the game, we knew it was something serious.”
Tunde Ogun had just 8 yards on 12 carries in the season opener against Wesley, and didn't have 100 rushing yards in any of his first four games before breaking out.
CNU photo by Jesse Hutchenson
Some thought that “serious” could translate into
season-ending. It crossed Ogun’s mind, as well as
Kelchner’s. The fluid and blood that collected in the
rusher’s knee was a symptom of an ACL tear. With a bye week
on the horizon, an MRI exam and other tests were in store.
The damage, it turned out, was related to his joint capsule.
“Once I heard that, I knew that I’m going to get rehabbed at some point and I’m going to come back,” Ogun said.
The Richmond, Va., native was one of a series of injuries suffered by CNU this season. The team lost its starting quarterback early on, and a broken leg sidelined the first-team fullback.
“There are so many unanswered questions around him, starting at quarterback, that he hasn’t been the asset we wanted to him because of injury to him and injuries to other guys,” Kelchner said. “He’s been positive, he’s been upbeat, he’s practiced hard.”
Ogun had to train himself to maintain that kind of attitude. Easygoing and charismatic in person, he finds reasons to smile even when forced to confront his hardships. The 5-inch gash on his arm, sustained during the Captains’ win against Ferrum on Saturday, is dismissed as an afterthought. But, while he’s comfortable looking back on the early part of the season, what he faced then couldn’t have been dismissed so easily. It took work -- in the mental approach, in the weight room and on rehabilitation -- to bring himself back up to speed. In athletics, any disruption to the perfectly planned season can often spiral downward.
Ogun had to play into his own patience.
“There were times when I got frustrated, but that’s part of the game. Injuries are part of the game, and learning how to adapt to that, to stay focused, it’s all part of the game,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say, ‘Oh, I’ve been good.’ I have been frustrated at times, but I knew that I didn’t want to create another issue. I have that frustration, it was already an issue, and I don’t want to let that frustration hold me back to where I can’t get out here and perform.”
Coming so far, turning back at this point would be hard. Ogun, who a family member described as being barely 180 pounds sopping wet coming out of high school, began his collegiate career at South Carolina, where he was heavily recruited. But issues with playing time prompted him to leave for the Cincinnati, where he was also highly sought-after during his prep days. Other factors prompted him to again shop around for a school and a team.
He landed in Newport News, Va., where he ended his first season, in 2007, with a 200-yard outing that Kelchner vividly recalls today.
“He had battled some injuries his sophomore season, but we knew he was going to be pretty good. He really kind of broke loose there,” Kelchner said.
The following season spoke for itself. Ogun strung together four straight 225-yard-plus efforts and became the USA South’s leading single-season rusher. This season, he went on to break a record with 285 yards in one game as well as reaching the pinnacle of CNU’s all-time record book.
He admits that the knee injury put him in a hole, redirected the expectations surrounding him and built walls where there were once open pastures.
“Knowing the system actually helped me when I was coming back from injury,” Ogun said. “I would understand, OK, this cut is here. I had to moreso follow my reads, follow my blockers, whereas last year I was able to improvise a lot.”
Kelchner noted, too: “We kind of got spoiled last year. You think that he should get 200 yards every game, and the circumstances just haven’t been right this year.”
With his coach’s advice, Ogun proceed week to week delicately, measuring movement and speed and building back up to the burst that he had in 2008.
“It was more about trusting [my knee]”, he said. “You get hurt, and you just can’t jump back in and be yourself. I had to learn to trust it, not hamper it or show that I was hurt. That probably was the biggest thing, learning how to trust my knee to know that I’m at a point where I can move forward.”
Looking to the future means looking to Weeks 10 and 11 that are ahead, as well as the possibility of a professional career after college. Ogun, who took part in an NFL Pro Day earlier this year, said the same 10 scouts who were then in contact with him back still are today, despite his injury. He also wants the opportunity to gauge himself against his larger-school competition in a collegiate all-star game.
Ogun has channeled much of himself into who he is on the field. With a father who was born in Nigeria, he’s proud of his African heritage. During games, he’s a leader who is capable of rallying those around him; he’s also determined, willing to carry the ball 20 or 30 times if given the chance. He understands adversity. And when he’s healthy and comfortable in his role on the team, it shows.
Those factors can also make him one of the biggest offensive threats in Division III.
“When you put yourself in that position, you’ve got to understand that there’s more pressure, there’s going to be a lot more people keying in on you,” he said. “And you got to learn to get around that.”
In Division III -- and this goes doubly in the chaotic
Mid-Atlantic -- it’s pretty hinky to use the term
“favorites” going into most games. Just this past
weekend, four of the nation’s top 13 polled teams lost. And
some teams in this region that could be considered favorites almost
got knocked off.
Lining up against Muhlenberg on Saturday, Dickinson was down 16-0 in the fourth quarter, struggling to find much of any sustained momentum to carry the team more than 30 yards at a time in that first 44 minutes of play. But what began at the tail end of the third quarter carried the Red Devils until the clock ran out, stringing together drives of 78, 37 and 57 yards to score 17 points in the final period. The final score came with 7 seconds left in the game as Gordan Craig managed a 41-yard field goal, his longest of the season. Linebacker Pete Hamill was among the stars on defense, with seven solo tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.
Despite Methodist’s record, the Monarchs haven’t been short on competitive games this year, and for a while, they seemed to have North Carolina Wesleyan on its heels. The Monarchs led 24-21 just before the half before the Bishops ran away with the day -- almost literally, thanks to record-setting rusher Bryan Haywod as well as Teron Bush, who combined for 273 yards and four touchdowns. The final 42-32 score got help on the Monarchs side by quarterback Erik Teague, who well outdid his average with 310 yards passing. Methodist free safety Brian Leary was all over the field, gobbling up 15 tackles and an interception.
Bridgewater (6-2) and Washington and Lee (3-6) traded scores most all afternoon, pushing the matchup to overtime before W&L failed to convert a two-point conversion, costing the Generals the 35-34 outcome. Both teams’ quarterbacks were adept at finding the end zone, with BC’s Hagan Driskell connecting three times with Tyler Beiler for touchdowns and W&L’s Charlie Westfal finding two receivers of his own. Big plays ruled the day: 43- and 73-yard passes put points on the board for the teams, and the Eagles also benefited from a 58-yard interception by Tony Konate that was returned for six.
Shenandoah did everything it could to earn win No. 2 for the year, but Averett held a two-touchdown rally in the fourth quarter at bay, preserving the 24-22 win and keeping a share of the USA South title in sight. Shenandoah’s Vern Lunsford threw for 232 yards for a school record, while also contributing to three touchdowns. For Averett, Dontavious Watson was the go-to guy, turning 21 carries into 117 yards and two scores.
A 91-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage for
Christopher Newport set the early tone of Saturday's game against
Ferrum, though for at least 30 minutes of play, the Panthers kept
it close. Antonio Epps split time under center and proved himself
an early threat with his breakaway run down the right side of the
field, setting a CNU school record. The Captains and Panthers
traded touchdowns through the first half, going into the break tied
at 14. CNU's first drive of the third quarter ended with a 5-yard
Tunde Ogun score, the first of two he'd have on the day. But it was
in the fourth quarter when Ferrum's momentum crumpled after a
mishandled punt return near midfield gave the ball back to CNU,
setting up the finishing score for the Captains.
To put perspective on the game's parallels, the teams had 19 first downs each, each totaled 300-plus yards of offense, averaged 6.1 or 6.2 yards per play, and each went 2-for-3 in the red zone.
Added to everything, three notable performances further stood out. For Christopher Newport, linebacker Adrin Diggs was a dominating force, seeing -- and stopping -- some plays before they even developed. His 10 solo tackles put a chink in Ferrum's offensive armor. The man he was forced to contend with often was Ferrum fullback Quintel Banks, who carried the ball 14 times and repeatedly tested the defense driving straight up the middle. The Panthers also had an impressive performance from their bruiser of a quarterback Matt Dobson. It's not so much his 137 yards that was impressive, but rather it was the way he's developed over the past few seasons. On Saturday, he showed off the cannon he's capable of.
Wesley helped solidify its No. 1 standing in the South
Region’s regional rankings with a 30-12 win over Salisbury,
the last Division III opponent on the Wolverines’ slate.
Running back Aaron Jackson had 127 yards, including a 76-yard
scamper for a touchdown late in the first half.
Moravian put a kink in Ursinus’ almost-Cinderella run through conference play. The Bears, who were 4-1 against Centennial opponents going into the game, fell 20-19 against the Greyhounds. More than half of the game’s points came off of special teams, including a 90-yard punt return by Ursinus’ Al Desiderio.
Guilford won its first conference game of the season, using 378 yards of passing to spoil the momentum of Randolph-Macon, one of the ODAC’s front-runners. The Quakers, in a 20-13 win, got behind quarterback Billy Watkins, who threw the ball 52 times for two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Equally impressive was senior linebacker Richie Paul, who for the second week in a row put up 18 tackles, 10 of them solo stops.
Newport News Apprentice tried a late-game rally but failed to make up ground in a 17-14 loss against the NAIA’s Webber International. Kicker Nicholas Foor put up the Builders’ first two scores, booting field goals of 36 and 40. The Builders were successful at getting pressure on Webber’s quarterback and notched six sacks on the day.
I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at email@example.com. I’m sure that I missed some highlights in the region. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.