Sure, Charles Omenihu could’ve gone pro last season. His 6-6 frame alone merits NFL consideration. Scouts love big guys. If he doesn’t cut it, eh, there’s always another.
The Texas defensive end watched last season as multiple teammates were told to stay in school by the NFL draft committee but left anyway. That’s what he was told, too. He stayed.
“You look at the tape, and you have to be honest with yourself,” Omenihu said. “Those dudes in the NFL are not playing no games with you. If you’re not honest with yourself, who is?”
With self-awareness and humility, Omenihu has become the poster child for what could happen to someone who stays in school one more year, even if it’s not ideal. Now, he leads Texas with six sacks and will most assuredly be a key component in the Longhorns’ Big 12 title run.
No. 6 Texas (6-1, 4-0 Big 12) puts its six-game winning streak on the line at 7 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma State (4-3, 1-3).
“He’s going to have the best season he’s had since he’s been on the Forty Acres,” UT coach Tom Herman said, “and he’s going to help us achieve our best season that we have had around here in the last five years.”
Omenihu stayed in school for a lot of reasons. Getting him to open up about why proves more elusive.
He wanted to get better, obviously. The last three years, Omenihu compiled 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers. But he’s grown and grown over the years and took game preparation far more serious than most. During the off week, Omenihu said he watched film of Clemson, Ohio State and Old Dominion defensive ends just to pick up tips.
Texas defensive line coach Oscar Giles remembers a 215-pound lanky three-star recruit from Rowlett. Today, Omenihu is listed at 275, compliments of two offseasons under strength coach Yancy McKnight.
“A lot of guys try to shy away from it,” Giles said, “but if you embrace it like he has, then the results start to show up and that definitely has paid huge dividends on the field.”
Omenihu, who always achieved in the classroom, also wanted to finish his sport management degree. “Definitely we’ll be in Austin on Dec. 8,” his father, Sunday Omenihu, said of UT’s fall convocation date.
The Nigerian-born immigrant came to the United States in 1979 and became a citizen. Sunday’s wife, Regina, came soon afterward. The coupled moved to Texas, and Charles was born in Houston. The family moved to Garland about a year later. Omenihu’s sister, Augustina, is currently a student at Houston.
“We never thought he would grow to be this tall guy with the size and speed and agility to play football,” Sunday Omenihu said. “I’m just grateful for what he has become.”
Omenihu also stayed at UT for his lifelong friend, Newton Ananti, once a defensive back at Rowlett. They both wanted to play college football. Ananti’s 247Sports recruiting profile and Hudl video, which are both still online, showcase a promising playmaker.
Ananti was leaning toward Baylor when doctors discovered a heart defect. He died on May 26, 2015, on a flight to Memphis. He was only 19.
Omenihu keeps a memorial to his friend on his Twitter profile — “R.I.P. NEWT.”
“It was just a shock,” Omenihu said. “Didn’t believe that could be something that was possible at an early age. Made you question a lot of things. It was a huge shock. Just very devastating.”
Before every game, Omenihu finds a moment of prayer and sends a message to his fallen teammate. When Omenihu got his first sack of the year against USC, he jumped up at Royal-Memorial Stadium and held up three fingers to represent Ananti’s high school jersey number.
“I saw this group of young kids cry the day his body was buried,” Sunday Omenihu said. “I think that was the first time they saw how precious life was and how it could be taken away.”
Incidents like that can harden one’s resolve.
About two years ago, Charles Omenihu searched online and found Nathan O’Neal, who coaches defensive linemen at the Under Armour All-America camp. O’Neal has worked with dozens of other college defensive ends and outside linebackers in 3-4 defensive schemes. He wants motivated players, guys willing to go all out, “and then some,” said O’Neal, now a mentor to Omenihu.
Without that tack-on qualifier, forget it. Two sequences this season — one against Kansas State and another against Baylor — highlight what O’Neal means.
K-State was backed up against its own goal line early in the second quarter. On first down, Omenihu shot the gap and sacked Alex Delton for a 5-yard loss. Two plays later, Omenihu kept his feet moving, kept his momentum going forward and got Delton’s knee down in the end zone for a safety.
On the final play against Baylor two weeks ago, most Texas fans just watched the ball. Charlie Brewer’s last-gasp pass sailed through the end zone and fell incomplete. Texas won 23-17 to keep its six-game winning streak intact.
Did anyone notice what happened to Brewer on that play? Omenihu buried him. In fact, he was all over Brewer on the final three plays, including the first down pass that was nearly intercepted by Brandon Jones.
“His get-off on those snaps was just absolute perfection,” O’Neal said, bursting with pride. “His hand movement — from the stab, swipe to the double swipe on both of those plays — it was absolute perfection. His eyes, his toe point and just chasing the play down, I mean, it was absolutely beauty.
“I’m not going to lie,” O’Neal added. “I took both of those clips and I literally am using them for drill tape with some of my other guys.”
That’s what the NFL is looking for.
“I wasn’t the highest rated dude in that (2015 recruiting) class, wasn’t thought of the same as certain guys,” Omenihu said. “Getting close to the goals I’ve set is something I kind of haven’t grasped yet.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.