Everyone has that weird interview story. The NFL Draft process has its ebbs and flows but one of the consistently entertaining things about it is the private interview setting. Scouts ask players all sorts of questions, and they could have absolutely nothing to do with football.
For Devine Ozigbo, his story comes from the East-West Shrine game.
“The weirdest question I got was from one scout,” the former Husker running back said in an interview with Hail Varsity, “and he asked if I had a billboard, what would I put on it?”
“Greatness is an ever-moving target.”
This is what an NFL team is getting if it takes Ozigbo at any point between Thursday (when the draft starts) and Saturday (when the final four rounds happen). For a guy who’s had to bust his tail to get on the field and prove doubters wrong every step of the way, nothing has been given and it seems like each step of the way he’s had to beat some new challenge.
A 6-foot, 225-pound bulldozer of a running back now, Ozigbo didn’t even start playing the position until the seventh grade. He was too big when he was younger. Coaches put him on the offensive line.
When he got to Nebraska, he started an October game his freshman season and carried the ball seven times for 70 yards but then got exactly seven carries total over the next month. He had 100 yards in the opener of his sophomore year against Fresno State but an ankle injury limited the rest of his season. He battled injuries again in 2017 behind a shaky offensive line.
The knock on Ozigbo throughout college was that he wasn’t fast enough. He was a one-trick running back. That’s what Scott Frost and his coaching staff were told when they took over at Nebraska in December of 2017.
But Ozigbo worked. About as hard as anyone. Strength coach Zach Duval loves him (Ozigbo earned Lifter of the Year) and Frost wishes he had another year with him. Ozigbo had only 26 more carries in 2018 than he did in 2017 and he doubled his yardage, producing the first 1,000-yard rushing season in four years.
He showed a vision and quickness he hadn’t before.
A year ago, he probably isn’t even thinking about sitting down to watch the draft with the ringer of his phone turned on. Now, he’s confident he’s going to be getting a call.
“It’s gone pretty well,” he said. “I definitely think I’m going to get a spot.”
Ozigbo flew back home to Texas on Wednesday after spending most of the last few months training in Lincoln. The plan is to watch Thursday and Friday with family, then have a celebration on Saturday. Of everything. Of graduating UNL with a degree in advertising and public relations. Of earning a spot on the All-Big Ten team. Of hopefully hearing his name called on TV.
But when I asked him why that confidence was there, he showed why teams like him. I asked if he feels like he’s done everything possible over this last year to put him in the best position to be taken, if this last year has been a success in that regard.
“I definitely wish we could have won a couple more games as a team,” was the first thing he said.
Yes, he feels like he “did what I needed to do to show NFL teams that I’m a viable candidate,” but Ozigbo’s intangibles are likely what’s going to set him apart.
“You’re going to get a guy that’s going to do everything that’s asked of him,” he said. “There’s never going to be an issue on or off the field. Always going to do his best to get himself and his team better.
“I’m one of those guys who loves to see people around me get better. It kind of fuels me to step my game up. Just a player that’s going to help them win games and win championships. The type of guy that you would draw up if you were going to design a football team is definitely who I desire to be and definitely what I think I’ll bring to a team.”
He’s spoken with all 32 NFL teams at least once. He’s gotten the sense most feel like he’s more than the utility power-back he gets labeled as. He’s tried to show balance. The feedback he gets about where he needs to improve most is in his pass-protection, not his speed or footwork.
“It’s something I want to do, it’s something I have the framework and the desire to be good at,” he said. “So I feel like with that, I can definitely succeed in achieving what they want.”
There isn’t a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t get an invite to the NFL Combine. In a way, he actually thinks it brought him more attention. He didn’t dwell on any perceived slight, he moved on and focused on his Pro Day.
“I’m not going to carry it as extra baggage,” he said. “I’m always going to go in there with a chip on my shoulder, but I wouldn’t say me not getting to the Combine is the thing that’s going to put the chip there.”
What will, and what has, is the notion his 1,082-yard, 12-touchdown senior season was a flash in the pan.
“I think people think I’m a one-season guy who came out of nowhere,” he said. “I’m going out to prove that one season was just basically the season that it kind of broke, but that’s who I am as a player all the time and who I will continue to be.”
Another target to hit.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.