Hallelujah Ozougwu

Cheta Ozougwu said he spent a lot of time praying during the 2011 NFL Draft. A devout Christian, the 22-year-old said he believed God's will would be done. Ozougwu, a 6-foot-2, 247-pound defensive end out of Rice University, believed he would be picked.

If anyone tries to tease him now, he can use a bible verse for where he was taken as the Houston Texans made him the 254th and dead last pick in the draft.

A part of Mark 10:31 reads, "The last will be first."

"I like that," Ozougwu said with a laugh.

Ozougwu (pronounced oh-zoo-goo), who pronounces his first name "Cheddah," became Mr. Irrelevant XXXVI Saturday when Irrelevant Week Founder Paul Salata announced his name at the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The newest Mr. Irrelevant said it was fulfilling to be picked and that he doesn't mind having the new nickname. He's also excited to stay in Houston, where he was born and raised.

"I'm happy to have [the Mr. Irrelevant nickname]," said Ozougwu, who will be honored and roasted during Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach and other parts of Orange County June 20-24. "It's by no means anything negative. A lot of people would want to be in this situation. I'm very fortunate to be in this situation. I'm embracing it."

Ozougwu's first full name is Chetachi. It's a Nigerian name, which means, "remember God." He's never forgotten the man upstairs throughout his life. Ozougwu said he's been a Christian all is life and that he rededicated his faith three years ago.

While he's been learning the game of football, he's also been teaching others about his religion. He can relate to the concept of Irrelevant Week, which is, "doing something nice for someone for no reason."

Ozougwu was one of 12 student-athletes who received the Conference USA Fall Spirit of Service award for his work in the community.

Among his efforts, Ozougwu was a mentor at Good Hope Baptist Church.

"I'm really big on giving back, working with kids and helping others who are not as fortunate as I am," Ozougwu said during a telephone interview shortly after becoming Mr. Irrelevant. "I had an amazing opportunity to work with the church and help kids who came from rough backgrounds. It was just great to put a smile on their face and to tell them about Jesus. Whatever I can do to give back."

Ozougwu can be thankful he was drafted Saturday. There are no undrafted free agents because of the NFL lockout. If the ongoing dispute between the owners and the players ends, teams can acquire undrafted free agents.

But Ozougwu is just grateful to have a team now and he said he plans to make the most of his opportunity. He's been opportunistic before.

Ozougwu played just two years of football before earning a scholarship at Rice. He had played basketball before becoming a safety on the Alief Taylor High football team in suburban southwest Houston.

"He came in very, very raw," said Chuck Dreisbach, Rice's defensive coordinator. "He had to learn by osmosis. He didn't understand the work ethic it would take at first but he started to get into it. In his junior and senior years he was a great leader."

Ozougwu picked up the game quick in his freshman year. He became a starter by his fifth game. In his senior year, he received added pressure when preseason All-CUSA pick and fellow defensive end Scott Solomon was lost for the season because of a hand injury, Dreisbach said.

Ozougwu said he didn't have the year he had expected, but he still earned first-team All-CUSA honors after recording 54 tackles and three sacks. He had three forced fumbles. He was also the co-winner of the George Martin Award as Rice's MVP.

In his junior season, he set career-highs for tackles (61), tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (4.5). He ranked second among CUSA defensive linemen with the 61 tackles.

"Like most of the Rice guys, just getting his foot into someone's camp he now has a great chance to make it," Dreisbach said. "He's going to work as hard as anyone. He's smarter than all the coaches here. He has tremendous character. All of those things you want in a player, above and beyond, he can be checked in for all the boxes."

Ozougwu is Mr. Irrelevant, but he was certainly relevant in the classroom. He will graduate with a degree in economics May 14. He was named to the ESPN Academic All District VI Football Team with a cumulative 3.41 grade-point average.

The NFL Draft brought excitement for Ozougwu, but he still ended up missing the first round on Thursday. He didn't watch because he was in the library studying for his last final so he could stay on course to graduate.

He said he was watching some of the draft on Saturday, but as it went into the sixth round, he went to relax in a pool. He said he prayed some more there, and his sister, Chinenye, prayed with him too.

Later, Ozougwu said he received a text from his agent that the Texans wanted to pick him. Then Rick Smith, the Texans general manager, called with the good news.

When he was selected, Ozougwu said he thought that everything happens for a reason and that he had envisioned playing for the Texans before. He met and worked with the Texans new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips when he was coaching for the East-West Shrine Game.

Phillips is transitioning the Texans to a 3-4 defense. Ozougwu was pegged as an undersized defensive end by scouts. He might fit into the Texans scheme as an outside linebacker. They might be able to use the help, even coming from Mr. Irrelevant.

The Texans defense appeared irrelevant in the NFL in 2010. They were ranked last against the pass and 30th overall on their way to a 6-10 year, even though they had an elite offense.

Ozougwu said he's excited to go to work when he can. He had not heard all about the hoopla that comes with being Mr. Irrelevant. A trip to Disneyland, an interview on the set of the NFL Network studio in Los Angeles and a tour in a Goodyear blimp were among the highlights for last year's Mr. Irrelevant, Tim Toone of the Detroit Lions.

And, of course there's always the Lowsman Trophy banquet, when Mr. Irrelevant is presented the statuette of a player fumbling a football. Ozougwu will also be roasted during the event.

He laughed when he heard about that.

"They're going to have a field day with me," he said. "I'm looking forward to that."

Irrelevant Week has also been famous, or infamous, for its parties that have gone deep into the night. Ozougwu said he's not concerned about that.

"I definitely can enjoy myself," he said. "It's all good. Just because I'm Christian doesn't mean I can't have fun."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°