Prince Tega Wanogho left Nigeria as a largely unknown quantity but he has become synonymous with quality, not only in the United States of America where he was recently drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League (NFL), but all over the world and especially in his home country, Nigeria.
His story encapsulates the never-say-die attitude of the average Nigeria athlete but fate played a crucial role in his rise to becoming a football player having left Nigeria for the United States in 2014 to pursue a career in basketball with the hope of becoming the next big star in the sport. He adored NBA stars like Lebron James, Steph Curry and many others and his biggest wish was to follow in their footsteps.
His desire to showcase his skills on the court at a different level presented itself when he earned a scholarship to Edgewood Academy in Montgomery, Alabama in 2014 at the age of 16. His journey to America was not smooth as he had to endure several years of hardwork until he was spotted at the ABO Basketball Camp organised by Eyo Effiong in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State before his trip to the United States became a reality.
Wanogho who was excited after he was drafted to Eagles recently told The Nation that the training he got in Nigeria prepared him for the challenges of doing sports in the US. “I really feel that working hard in Nigeria really helped me to adapt when I got to the Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Alabama. In Nigeria, there wasn’t much opportunity so when I got here and saw opportunities, it gave me the drive to work on myself and become a better athlete.”
He started playing basketball as soon as he got to his new school but his desire to meet new people led him to the football pitch. His athleticism caught the eye of the football coaches and after a year he forgot all about basketball and stuck to his new love. To everyone’s amazement, the 6ft 5in player quickly mastered the rudiment of the game.
Adapting to the new sport was challenging but he would not let the opportunity pass him by as he devoted all his free time to excel in the sport. “I played basketball for just a year after I got to the US. I switched to football the following and I knew I had to adapt quickly to the sport.
“Doing well is all about having the right mind-set. It can be complicated but it is about you coming to a new place and having the desire to learn and do well. So I just felt like I had to buckle up because that is what it is at the end of the day. For me, football is about learning something new and being dedicated to it. When I came over to the US, I didn’t even know much about the sport but being open and wanting to learn something new helped me greatly. The coaches knew I was ready to learn and they work with me all the way.
According to Wanogho, playing soccer and basketball back home in Nigeria made his switch to football easy as techniques involved in the sports were similar with athleticism a big factor. “Most of the sports have the same rudiments and have similarities in some ways. Basketball helped me in catching the ball, making tackles and jumping while soccer also helped me with footwork, transition and taking kicks. It was easy for me to move better on the pitch because I was athletic All sports correspond despite being different.”
His first year Edgewood was very disappointing as he got injured playing basketball. Due to the injury, he did not get to play for the football team early as he had to redshirt his freshman year with the Tigers, practicing as a defensive lineman on the scout team. He was moved to the offensive side of the ball as a freshman and played in 10 games as a reserve right tackle. He moved to left tackle in 2017 and started every game in his final two years on campus, playing 49 games and starting 32.
While doing well on the pitch, he was also an excellent student as he was spared from his final year in high school as he committed to Auburn University where had his college education before being drafted by Eagles in round 6 as the 210 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Wanogho’s decision to switch to football did not receive his mother’s initial blessing. She believed the sports was too vicious and wouldn’t want her son to have anything to have with it but she saw reasons after a while and allowed her son to pursue hs dream.
“The view back home is that football is a dangerous sport which could cause damaging injuries. At first that was what my mom believed and she didn’t want me to play but I made her realise one can get injured in every sport and you have to pray against sustaining career-threatening injuries. Truly, the toughness of the game can be scary in the beginning but it is something you get used to. The sport is complicated but the moment you know what you doing, you will become better.”
The Auburn University alumni who is unable to join his team due to the coronavirus pandemic says it is heart-wrenching not to be able to join his team but notes that he is keeping fit at home while hoping that he would become an integral part of his teams once the season begins. “Unfortunately, I can’t train with the team now but I am working out on my own to make sure I stay in top shape. My aim is to learn as much as I can when I join the team. I need to be mentally tough to play in the professional league. I also hope to get some playing time in my new team with the ultimate aim of becoming a starter.
The open-minded new kid on the block, who is excited with his successful transition to football despite the initial injury setback, is hoping to introduce the game to other Nigerian kids in future and make the sports popular so that they can benefit from scholarship just like he did.
“Definitely, I will come back to Nigeria and try to inspire some kids and let them know that opportunities abound in sports. I will also let them know that that is the same way I was able to make something out of myself. I am going to look for kids who are actually hungry and ready to work and get them over to the US.
“I will advise the kids to keep going and stay focused. I know Nigeria is not a place where sportsmen are encouraged because of low investment in sports unlike in advanced countries where sports is big business. I know it is frustrating sometimes but the kids need to stay grounded because they will make it someday by staying humble and working hard always,” he added.