"He didn't have that male role model that he needed," Imelda Osemele said. "Kelechi was not very expressive and he never told me his problems or issues. I'd go to him and ask him, 'Why aren't you outside playing like you used to? Why are you always in your room?' I had to finally press him to let me know that he was depressed not having a male role model around."
Determined to support her four children, Imelda worked double shifts as a nurse, spending as many as 15 hours a day at the hospital while also serving as pastor of a local church. She said she always had enough money for her children to be taken care of, but the living conditions for the kids did present some challenges.
There were times that Imelda Osemele was so busy that she forgot to pay electric or water bills, and both would be turned off. Kelechi had to share not only a room until he was a little older, but also a bed.
"The toughest part was her emotional state every day," Osemele said. "You never really knew if it was going to be a good day at work or if somebody would pass away that was close to her. She was very close to her patients. You never really knew if she had gotten into an argument with my dad because she'd call him at work. Really, that was our main concern. We were pretty much in the house to fend for ourselves."
As the youngest and the lone male, Kelechi didn't stand a chance. He was the target of watermelon fights and other household pranks. His three sisters — Chiemeri, Ebere and Millicent — sang loudly in unison to taunt him and then blamed him for every mess or squabble.
"A lot of times, it was unfair for him," said Millicent, now 24 and the youngest of the three sisters. "Us being all girls, of course we were always on each other's side. He probably felt ganged up on a lot. … My father not being there all the time affected all of us but Kelechi the most. He didn't have his dad there to throw the ball with. He didn't have the father-and-son time. The times that my dad was there, they were inseparable. He considered moving [to Nigeria], but [my father] said, 'You need to stay and play American football.' He was right."
For Kelechi , football provided an opportunity and an outlet.
"He played with such fury," Imelda Osemele said. "He put all his energy — both positive and negative — into it. I think he really got out his frustration through football."
He also got the discipline and mentorship he sought.
"Basically every coach that I ever had took that [father figure] role," Osemele said. "They always kind of checked up on me, made sure my grades were good, led me down the right path. My mom allowed them to discipline me, and that's where most of my discipline came from."
At home, Kelechi had long tired of his mother's rules and rigidness. Everything in the house had to be "clean and perfect" and if it wasn't, there were consequences.
His sisters had all moved out and when it came time for him to make a college decision, he had about a dozen scholarship offers, including one from nearby University of Houston, to mull over. Kelechi considered academic and athletic fit. He also made it known that staying home was not an option. So Iowa State, located in Ames, Iowa, and a member of the Big 12 Conference, seemed like the right fit.
"I wanted more space; I wanted to be more independent," he said. "College was an escape for all of us. It allowed us to breathe, to be able to see things and to experience life and not be so closed off from other people. That was pretty much the main reason I wanted to go to Iowa State. All of us were ready to become adults and not be so stifled."
Imelda Osemele initially was crushed, but the growth in her son after he departed for college was clear to see. A liberal studies major, he made the Cyclone academic honor roll three times. He had a couple of close friends, he was developing as a person and a football player, and he couldn't have been any happier.
Osemele spoke to a Ravens official earlier that evening in April and had a good idea the team would select him at pick No.60. As the tension in Imelda's living room heightened, Osemele sat calmly in front of the television. When his name and picture flashed across the screen as the newest Raven, he engulfed his mother in a giant hug.
"Now we have an understanding," Osemele said. "I see the amount of pressure and responsibility that she had in raising four kids by herself. When you're young, you have animosity and you don't understand why you can't do what other kids are doing, why your mom is being so strict, why she is punishing you for things that you probably shouldn't be punished for. Then you kind of see the desire for her to have you be disciplined and be successful, and you also understand the short temper and the anger as far as the situation with my father. You get a better understanding for why some people react the way they do and why she was in such a tough emotional state."