From Nigeria To The NFL: Ben Banogu’s Path To The Draft

From Nigeria To The NFL: Ben Banogu’s Path To The Draft
Reading Time: 7 minutes.

“I told them that I was going to do well. The kind of biggest thing that I was harping on was that I was one of, if not the, most athletic person in my position out there, and I suppose I proved that when I was going through the drills and stuff”.

If anyone was surprised by Ben Banogu’s performance at the 2019 NFL Combine, it wasn’t the edge rusher himself. The 23 year old out of TCU has been betting on himself his entire career.

Introducing, Ben Banogu…

Born in Nigeria, Banogu’s path to the draft started in McKinney, Texas. It was growing up there that sports began to play a part in his life, as he told me:

“I grew up with four brothers, my mum worked a lot so using sports as an avenue to get your mind off of some things you might struggle with throughout the family, being in an environment where your mum takes care of you and moves you in to a, like, suburban type environment so you can be successful. Credit to my mum, cause she had to go through a lot to put us in that predicament…it was good, I feel like it shaped the person that I am”.

Attending Prosper High School in Texas, Banogu was a multi-sport athlete. As well as football, he excelled in basketball, lacrosse and track and field. Did he know then that his path would take him to the NFL?

“Originally, I was more of a basketball player. The game of basketball came easier to me than football did but I reached a certain point where I knew I had limits in basketball ’cause you can’t make yourself grow 6’7′ or 6’8′ overnight so football was the avenue I wanted to go through”.

Basketball to Football…

His football journey didn’t come easy. Injured as a sophomore, Banogu’s first real success in the sport didn’t come until his senior year at Prosper. This impacted on how he was recruited in to the world of college football:

“I had a little bit of struggles with sports. I was injured my sophomore year and I never really played varsity football until my senior year. Doing that and excelling at that level to at least get a scholarship somewhere, to ULM, was pretty big for me…learning the nuances of the game and first starting to play my senior year was a little different…I would say that I’m a late bloomer”.

From Scholarship To Standout…

At University Louisiana-Monroe (ULM), Banogu began to bloom. Although he red shirted his first season, he broke out in 2015. With five sacks and 34 solo tackles, he was voted “All Sun-Belt Newcomer”. His first sack came in ULM’s game against Alabama. It was at that point Banogu realised his obvious talent needed a higher platform. He transferred after 2015 to TCU and he told me about that decision:

“I played a couple of good teams, Alabama and Georgia, and I did well. My first sack was against Alabama. From that moment, I was like, I kind of want to play at a school where you play that kind of level of competition every week and for me, transferring was a way to play higher competition and get to a point where I can showcase what I can do. I knew transferring up a division would have me sitting out a year, it was pretty cut and dry”.

Transferring to TCU…

The season that he missed under the transfer policy shaped the character that Banogu brings to the NFL. Although he couldn’t help on the field, he was committed to helping the success of TCU from the practice field:

“That year was tough ’cause I wanted to play so badly my first year but I knew that under the NCAA rules, I couldn’t. I feel like I made the most of that first year. I was able to become the “scout team” player of the year and out of all the stuff I did at TCU, that one means a lot more to me than some of the other stuff I accomplished. Just because to win an award like that means you have to be selfless enough to not worry about what’s going on with you.

You’re trying to help everyone around you and help your team get better every week. I just take great pride in that and that I feel like that kind of helped lay the foundations of what I was about at TCU and how I carried myself throughout the next two years that I could play”.

Dominating From Defensive End…

Ben Banogu vs Texas Tech. Photo Credit: gofrogs.com

Once he got on to the field at TCU for his junior year, Banogu began to dominate. He was a captain both years, wracked up 18 sacks and 72 solo tackles. Ben collected Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and First Team All Big 12 honours. He recalled some of the highlights from his time there:

“The most memorable games that I was a part of was the first game I played against Arkansas. That was kind of like my coming out game where I feel like I did just about everything in that game. Then going in to my senior year, the Texas Tech and Baylor games really stuck out for me. I feel like, I set the tone for the game and I single handedly disrupted the course of their offence…feel like I helped the team play so much better because of that and that was my biggest thing. I like being the guy that’s able to be that tone setter and be the leader to help everyone go”.

From Inspiration To Comparison…

His play over his two season’s at TCU draws comparisons to one of Banogu’s footballing inspirations. In two consecutive seasons he had 16 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. He became the first Big 12 player to do so since Denver’s Von Miller:

“When I figured out that defensive end was my kind of thing, Von Miller was the guy that I was looking at like, I want to some day be talked about how he is”.

With an impressive two years at TCU, the Senior Bowl came calling. Although he’s starred at defensive end, he was invited to the college All-Star game to play as a linebacker. This gave Ben an opportunity to prove his versatility and ability to learn:

Switching And Starring At The Senior Bowl…

Photo Credit: @seniorbowl (Twitter)

“I feel like it was one of those weeks where I got better everyday. The first day I started out at a new position. True linebacker, like a sam linebacker, then in sub packages, I was an improv linebacker, a dime linebacker as you’d call it. That was new for me. So, picking up on the movements, and the drops, the terminology and the coverage part, it was new but I felt like everyday I got better at it. By the third day I was moving like a linebacker out there. I felt pretty good about it. It was one of those things where you have to go in and show what you can do. I felt like I showed that I can play that position as well as rush the passer and be a down defensive end”.

Creating Separation In A Deep Class…

In a draft class that is defensively heavy and features a number of consensus first round edge prospects, that versatility and adaptability is something that can set you apart in the eyes of NFL scouts, coaches and GMs.

“The biggest thing that teams have been talking to me, and things I’ve been telling teams is my longevity. The more positions you can play, the more things that you can do, the more teams feel inclined to pick you and use you. I know that if I can play defensive end, play linebacker and even play three technique in games as a way to get in there. I know I can do anything in the front seven and that sets me apart from everyone else. The biggest thing in the NFL is, you can get there but how long can you stay there and with everything that I can do, I feel like I have a long and promising career in the NFL”.

Crushing The Combine…

Ban Banogu At The 2019 NFL Combine. Photo Credit: NFL.com

Having an incredible performance at the combine certainly helps to set you apart from the rest of the class too. Banogu finished in the top ten defensive end prospects in every drill at Indianapolis. His broad jump set a record for defensive linemen. His 40 yard dash was faster than highly touted prospects like Josh Allen and Nick Bosa.

“I thought it went as planned. You know, I had pretty big confidence in myself to go out there and do well. Some of the things I already did at my training facility I’ve been working out at, I had a good sense of how well I was going to do at certain things. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with how I went out there and moved around, and jumped, and ran, and in the position drills and stuff”.

Talking to NFL Teams…

He spoke with a number of teams at the combine, and has a number of team meetings scheduled before the draft. Game tape and athletic analysis is available to teams, what extra do these interviews allow you to show?

“I feel like they’re pretty important cause they get a chance to know you as a person. They see how you react to certain things, to certain questions, to different scenarios that they put you in and the biggest thing for them is that they already know what they see on film and they’re trying to put a personality to the player they’re looking at. So doing interviews with teams, and talking to them and being able to share your story and share how you think, I think it holds more weight than what people give it credit for”.

The Final Stage on the Path To The Draft…

In talking to Ben Banogu, teams are going to hear an incredible story. They are also going to get a player who is confident whilst knowing he has a lot to learn:

“The game comes easy to me…I have a lot more to do, I have more to grow and build upon. But, the game itself, I feel like I’ve gotten better each time and each season I’ve been able to play in”.

We’re now just 36 days from the start of the 2019 NFL Draft and the next chapter of Ben Banogu’s story. When his name gets called in Nashville, what are the team that selects him getting?

“They’re going to get a guy that’s a leader. A guy that’s going to give 100% everyday. That can do just about everything within the front seven, that can go out there on special teams and do well. Just an all round football player. Someone that’s selfless. Someone that gives up for the team. That someone that when you put them on the field makes everyone around them better”.

Ben Banogu is hoping for a long career in the NFL. However, don’t expect him to have a long wait to hear his name called on draft weekend.

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman (USA TODAY Sports)

Many thanks to Ben Banogu for taking the time to talk to me. Also, thanks to Rebecca Otto and Alexis Ramos for making the interview possible.

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