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Hallelujah Ozougwu

Mr. Irrelevant

Defensive end says he has his prayers answered when he became the 36th Mr. Irrelevant.

April 30, 2011|By Steve Virgen, steve.virgen@latimes.com

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.

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"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.

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