Canadian university product David Onyemata went from never watching a football game in his native Nigeria to earning millions of dollars playing defensive line in the NFL.
Onyemata signed a three-year contract extension with New Orleans worth $27 million on March 19.
“Coming from a guy who actually saw this whole thing started from the get-go, it is really huge. In 2011, if you would have asked anyone, if you would have asked me if this was going to happen, I don’t know what I would have told you at that point,” Onyemata said.
The 27-year-old was drafted by the Saints who traded up to select him in the fourth round, 120th overall during the 2016 NFL draft. He has played four seasons in New Orleans, recording 123 tackles, 74 solo tackles, 9.5 sacks, knocked down three passes and forced one fumble in 63 career games. There were many NFL teams who inquired about Onyemata, but he wanted to stay in Saints colours.
“I received a pretty decent amount of interest. There were a lot of teams out there, but just being here, knowing the culture around here, the foundation here is what pretty much kept me here with the Saints,” Onyemata said.
Onyemata was the top-ranked Canadian prospect before the 2016 CFL draft after an excellent U Sports career at the University of Manitoba. He blossomed to win the 2015 J. P. Metras Trophy as the top down lineman in Canadian university football. There is still potential for Onyemata to maximize at the NFL level.
“The way I think about the game is I go into every season with the same mindset. That’s to improve on everything. I’m talking about the run game, the pass game and my effectiveness on the field. Every year you keep growing and growing and the older you get, the more understanding you get. That’s kind of how I look at it,” Onyemata said.
It’s true that Onyemata had far less name recognition due to picking up the game late, suiting up in Canada and playing far fewer reps than an average NCAA player, but NFL personnel evaluators viewed it as a positive, especially the Saints who were awed by his athleticism.
“It’s still something that’s sinking in for me right now. I haven’t really had much time to reflect, but I’m happy to still be here with the Saints organization. That’s something that’s dear to me,” Onyemata said about his new, lucrative contract.
New Orleans plays in a highly-skilled offensive NFC South that features quarterbacks Drew Brees (Saints), Tom Brady (Buccaneers), Matt Ryan (Falcons), and Teddy Bridgewater (Panthers).
“It is a great division. It is definitely going to be a great competition going against those guys. Just being around Teddy and knowing what kind of person he is. It’ll be great competing against those guys on the field,” Onyemata said.
“Looking at that the last few years and the main goal. The main goal is to win the Super Bowl and we’ve come up short the last couple of years. Having the guys here and having that mindset to actually achieve this goal of winning a Super Bowl.”