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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    A gamble with the gridiron

    Alan Walsh/ Arizona Daily Wildcat
    Alan Walsh
    Alan Walsh/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

    Taking a physical blow isn’t the same throughout all sports, but Fendi Onobun is trying to prove he can take a hit no matter how it comes to him.

    In the UA men’s basketball team’s final game of the 2008-09 season, the Arizona forward bit on a head fake under the basket, rolled over the back of Louisville center Samardo Samuels and fell hard on his back.

    The elevated floor shook and the crowd fell silent. But just as quickly as he fell, Onobun bounced up and ran down the court to play defense like nothing happened.

    Yes, Onobun was able to take a hit in his final collegiate game on the hardwood.

    But can he take a hit from an NFL safety who blindsides him?

    Onobun certainly thinks so. That’s why the 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior is seriously trying to turn heads in the professional football industry.

    There’s just one minor detail.

    “”I’ve never played football before,”” Onobun said with a laugh. “”But it’s an opportunity. It’s funny. It’s weird. But it is what it is. I’m just trying to keep my options open.””

    Onobun has been putting together game footage to send to European teams with the hopes of continuing his career with the round ball. But his push toward football came at an interesting time, as he ended his college basketball career in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis just one month and one day after the NFL Combine took place in the same location.

    Onobun is part of the newest movement of college basketball players trying to wedge their ways into the NFL. Greg Paulus (Duke), Jamelle Cornley (Penn State) and Jon Brockman (Washington) are all making waves about their possible career changes in the athletic world.

    They’re probably thinking the same thing Onobun is: “”If someone gives me a shot and works with me, who knows what could happen?””

    Since UA cornerback Marquis Hundley was injured in December’s Las Vegas Bowl, he couldn’t work out in the Combine. So NFL scouts from the New England, Carolina and Buffalo teams came to McKale Center on April 11 to watch Hundley and receiver B.J. Dennard work out.

    Onobun thought he’d tag along, too.

    “”I had some people in my ears that said, ‘Hey, man. You have to give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen?'”” said Onobun, who spurned interest from UA football coach Mike Stoops a few years back to continue with basketball.

    He only played football for one year in middle school, but as it turns out, the basketball player wasn’t too shabby with the football drills on his pro day.

    Onobun ran a 4.5 40-yard dash in his April 11 workout, which would have tied South Carolina’s Jared Cook, who had the best time for a tight end in last month’s NFL Combine.

    Onobun, who has a 7-foot-1 wingspan, posted a 37 1/2-inch vertical jump, which would have been second to Cook’s 41 inches. The basketball player’s 10-foot-7 broad jump – a long jump from a standstill – was four inches better than Cook’s distance, which ranked No. 1 in the Combine for his position.

    “”I’m an athlete, so it’s really not hard to run and jump,”” said Onobun, who is marketing himself as a tight end.

    But that doesn’t mean Onobun hasn’t been planning for this workout for quite some time.

    Before he underwent surgery in April 2008 to have a metal rod placed in his left leg to repair a stress fracture in his tibia, Onobun frequently went out with close friends Billy Seymour and Keith Rosenblatt to local high schools or middle schools to work on routs and basic football mechanics.

    “”We worked on the different things he would need to be successful at for the pro day,”” said Rosenblatt, director of sales for Citadel Broadcasting.

    Though Rosenblatt doesn’t have a strong football background, Seymour does. He played for the University of Michigan from 1997-2001 and had a stint with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

    Seymour compares Onobun’s situation to that of San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 after a basketball career at Kent State that didn’t feature one snap on the football field.

    But unlike the path Gates took to an NFL All-Pro appearance, Rosenblatt said Onobun’s best-case scenario would be to make it onto a team’s practice squad and stay there for a year or so to learn the game.

    Sure, Onobun knows the basics. He follows his hometown Houston Texans and enjoys playing Madden video games every now and then, but he doesn’t yet know the game like a pro should.

    That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the body and skills, though.

    “”He’s a freak athlete. When you’re 6’6″” and you’re running a 4.5, that’s fast,”” Rosenblatt said. “”The funny thing is we’ve clocked him at 4.44 many times. He can break 4.5 easily.””

    Onobun displayed his greatest skill thus far during pro day, catching passes indoors while it rained outside.

    “”I think he’s got phenomenal hands,”” said Seymour, who now sells surgical devices for a living. “”I think he can catch everything. His speed, too, for how big he is, is unbelievable. The thing that he possesses that’s really big in the NFL is that burst after the catch. He can really just get it into the next gear.””

    As for that safety who will be looking to blindside Onobun on the gridiron – Rosenblatt said the big teddy bear does have a mean streak to him.

    “”If someone pushes too much, that mean streak will show itself,”” Rosenblatt said, “”and it’s going to have to show itself if he’s going to continue with football.””

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