1 block Terp can't shed

October 07, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The left side of Eric Ogbogu's chest aches. The rib he cracked in preseason practice is mending, but it will be a long time before Ogbogu's broken heart heals.

One of the new breed of defenders who have fueled Maryland's resurgence this fall, Ogbogu is a 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore end who either can overpower or race by an offensive tackle. A converted tight end, he's still learning his position, and still coming to grips with a tragedy that could have ended his football career.

In May, Ogbogu's father, Louis, was murdered during a carjacking while on business in Nigeria. His teammates and coaches tried to talk Ogbogu through his grief, but could they ever completely understand why he wanted to forget about College Park and remain at home in Tarrytown, N.Y.?

"After my father's death, it was very tough, especially for my mother," Ogbogu said. "The spring semester was over, and I just happened to be with her in New York when we got the news about my father. When I came back [after the funeral], I didn't really want to play football. I just wanted to go back to New York and stay with her.

"Eric Hicks, Al Wallace, Darryl Gilliam, some other teammates were there to talk to whenever I needed them. Eventually, I realized I had to go back to school and football, but it's not as if they're diversions for me. There's no escaping what happened to our family."

Ever protective of his mother, Ogbogu requested that any queries to other family members be directed toward Vicky, one of his six siblings and a 1994 Maryland graduate who sprinted for the Terps' track team.

"Eric knew that Mom wouldn't have our father around anymore, and he was very concerned for her," Vicky said. "He just wanted to stay home and make sure she was all right. What affects one of us affects all of us. One of the reasons we're close is that there's so much history in how we all came to be here together."

Ogbogu, who wears a diamond stud in his left ear lobe, is as American as any of the other rock 'n' rollers in the locker room. He was born and raised in well-to-do suburbs along the Hudson River, but has gotten acquainted with a massive family during five visits to Nigeria, most recently for his father's funeral in Onitsha.

The Ogbogus -- the first "g" is silent -- are Ibo, one of the four predominant ethnic groups in Nigeria. Tired of harassment from the Muslim majority outside their region, the Christian Ibo proclaimed their independence during 1967 to 1970 as the Republic of Biafra, but it was vanquished by civil war and food shortages that led to a million deaths.

Before Biafra's vain attempt at secession, Louis Ogbogu had emigrated to California, where he studied economics and played soccer, first at Stanford and then at Santa Clara University. Left behind were a wife and two young sons.

Biafra was in its infancy and Francis and Ben were 5 and 3, respectively, when a Jesuit at Santa Clara helped arrange their flight from Africa. Winifred, Louis' wife, came later, after the violence had escalated in Onitsha.

Louis Ogbogu worked for several Fortune 500 companies and settled in Tarrytown, where three daughters and two more sons were born and education was stressed.

"My father always said, 'One thing I encourage you to do is beat me,' " said Vicky, a legal assistant who lives in Greenbelt. "He graduated summa cum laude from Santa Clara, and challenged us to do as well."

Francis, the oldest, has an MBA. Like Vicky, Ben studied at Maryland. Uju just got out of Iona, and is headed to law school. The youngest, Charlie and Ifey, are high school seniors.

Eric, an accounting major, could afford to drop summer school because he already had enough credits to be eligible to play this season. Besides, it left him time to linger in Tarrytown with his mother.

Tonight against Wake Forest, Ogbogu, who splits time at right end with Wallace, will search for the form he showed Sept. 16 against West Virginia, when a sack and two other tackles earned him co-Defensive Player of the Game honors. Tonight, however, he won't have the same inspiration.

"Eric's mom was at the West Virginia game," said Peter McCarty, who coaches the defensive ends. "He played very well, and I think you can attribute some of that to her presence."

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