"I'm not playing football," Larry Ogunjobi told Robert Mitchell in the summer of 2009.
"Yes," Mitchell replied emphatically, "you are."
At 15 years old, Larry Ogunjobi's mind could not have been further from football. He was overweight, out of shape and deeply committed to his Xbox 360. Then his parents, Larry and Mercy, pulled the plug.
"They said you’re killing yourself."
That's when his parents hired Mitchell, a strength and conditioning coach, to become his new Xbox. Within weeks, Ogunjobi lost nearly 35 pounds and had drastically improved health. Good enough, right? Nope, said Mitchell, who had bigger plans for the gigantic teenager. He drove Larry to the sophomore-to-be's high school in Jamestown, N.C. Days later, the 6-foot, 315-pounder, became the biggest guy on the Ragsdale High School JV team.
"My recollection of football was just 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense. That's it. The first day I get there and there’s like 106 people, all of them staring at me. That was my introduction to football."
And it didn't get much better. He struggled on the first day — nearly collapsing after the sixth wind sprint — and most days after that. Though Larry told coaches he was there physically, his mind was nowhere to be found. He kept showing up to practice and games because he didn't have a choice.
Then it all changed.
"After the season, we had a banquet, they gave out 'Most Improved Player'. The name was mine, and that was the first time in my life I felt like I earned something, something that I worked for. That set the trend for everything."
Larry started trying. He went to the YMCA for cardio every day after varsity practice during his junior season. What started as a half-mile jog and five-mile bike ride became a one-mile run and 10-mile ride. Then it became two miles and 15 miles, respectively. This was about the same time college football teams started asking Ragsdale head coach Tommy Norwood about his big defensive tackle.
Five years later, after three All-Conference USA seasons at Charlotte, where he set the program record for tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hurries, more teams are inquiring about Larry Ogunjobi. This time, they're from the NFL.
Ogunboji had 13 sacks and 49 tackles for loss in his career. Photo: Charlotte Athletics
Now a well-built 6-foot-3, 302-pounder, the son of Nigerian immigrants is humble, realistic and more hungry than ever. As he prepares for the NFL draft, where he should become the first player in Charlotte history to be drafted, we caught up to him to discuss his college career, draft prep and more.
Five years, ago you weren’t listed on any recruiting websites and had minimal interest from FBS and FCS programs. What was your mindset during this time?
“Because I didn't start playing football until my sophomore year, I didn’t understand the concept of camps. I had a couple offers, like Howard, Presbyterian and others. But Charlotte was the right fit. I prayed about it and God let me feel like it was the right decision to make.
I didn’t know anything about the process. Everything was new to me. At Charlotte, I could be far enough away from home and be independent but close enough to my parents. They came to almost every game."
You were part of Charlotte's first-ever team in 2012, one that didn't play games for an entire season. What was it like spending an entire year preparing?
"I didn’t have anything to compare Charlotte to. A lot of people had friends and teammates at other schools, or family that played college football. It wasn’t the case for me.
When I came here, it was just trying to be the best I can be. It’s not about where you go; it’s about what you do there. That was my mindset every day. I knew that by God’s grace, the time would come. It was different but I didn’t think about it like that. I saw the opportunity to be the first and leave a legacy.
Everybody talks about records and other things but being the first is something no one can take away from you.
How did sitting out that year change your game, preparation and approach?
"I never saw it as ‘sitting out’. I saw it as preparing. Every practice was a competition. Every scrimmage was a game. I just wanted to get better.
I thought it was normal. I thought everyone redshirted. You take the first year to develop, get better and acclimated to school. We’re not playing a game? Ok, cool. Let me get ahead in the books and set a foundation. Take care of my business so when we do play I can really focus and not have to scramble and find balance.
If your scales are off in the beginning, it’ll be hard to find that median where you put everything into both facets. It was an opportunity to excel in the classroom and [on the field]. It was blessing."
What are you working on before the draft?
"Everything really. Getting my body healthy is the number one goal. Getting those nicks and dinks out from the season.
Specifically, working on my hands. Hands can always get better; pad level can always get better. Pass rush too, looking at certain concepts. At this level it’s mostly mental. Everyone is athletic and strong and fast, so technique will set you apart."
Describe your game to someone who has never seen you play.
"I play fast and smart. Full speed. I fly around."
What would it mean to be the first NFL draft pick in Charlotte history?
"It’d definitely be humbling. It’s a blessing that would mean a lot. It would mean it’s possible. It’s not always where you start; it’s where you finish.
Everyone will tell you can and can’t do things. At the end of the day it’s all what you believe. There’s always a lot of doubt from the outside. If it’s something I wanted, I’d find a way to get it. God blessed me with a way to do that and I just need do it."
You have mentioned your plans to attend medical school. Are you still planning to do this and if so, how does that fit in with your NFL plans?
"Right now I’m full football. This is the first time in my life where I can really focus on football. When my playing days are, we’ll go on. I always have plans through my major, things I’ve done during college. But now I’m trying to play football for a long time."
On your LinkedIn profile, it says “I don’t know everything.” Are you not afraid to admit you don't have all the answers and you're not perfect?
"A lot of times people are too prideful or too arrogant to admit they don’t know something. When they fall, it’s too late.
For me, I understand that I don’t know everything. I could be looking at a 6 and you’re looking at a 9. It’s the same image but our perspectives are different. We see different things but we’re both right. What I see in life isn’t the only way for things to be done.
There are times when I will trust my gut and go at it alone. Then there are times when I listen to the vets and the coaches to try another way. There’s always room for improvement. You’re always your own person. But you need to understand how to take criticism and make it your own. Someone will always have a comment. Take it for what is and apply it. If it makes you a better person, great. If it doesn’t, trash it."