Saints DT Onyemata still scratching the surface on his great potential

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David Onyemata, Dak Prescott
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

The New Orleans Saints are bolstered by defensive tackle David Onyemata, a third-year pro who has just scratched the surface of his potential. His arrival to the National Football League was no easy path.

Onyemata, 26, hails from Lagos, Nigeria and played his high school football at Chris Land in Lagos before moving on to play at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada strictly due to his vast potential. The learn curve was steep.

I started to play late in high school. It was tough at first. It was a huge learning curve,” Onyemata recalled. “I was playing catch up when everyone I was playing against was comfortable playing the game.”

Following the conclusion of his time at Manitoba where he played 37 games with 166 tackles and 9.5 sacks, Onyemata was invited to the East-West Shrine Game where he flashed his intriguing ability and high football IQ, despite the fact he has only been introduced to the sport in high school. He also registered a 96.3 percentile on the SPARQ test.

Onyemata grew up in an athletic family with six siblings. “I’m the youngest,” Onyemata said. “My brothers could have played in (NFL). We are all around the same size. We all kind of grew up playing soccer. It was always competitive.”

The 6-foot-4, 300 pounder is a physical specimen flexible enough to look smooth on a basketball court, even dunking the ball. “I’ve done it,” he said proudly. “I haven’t even thought about it. I just do it.”

The Saints did their homework on Onyemata in pre-draft prep, and the Nigerian became a success story for New Orleans from the 2016 NFL Draft. In fact, the Saints dealt their fifth round picks in 2016 and 2017 n order to move up and grab him in the fourth round. Onyemata was also drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL but that option was never needed.

David has earned a reputation as someone who plays with great intensity. He will physically manhandle the blockers. An example of his overpowering nature was demonstrated but perhaps lost in the mix of a 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys this past November. Onyemata wreaked havoc on the talented Cowboys offensive line, recording three sacks, two tackles for loss, a pair of hurries and a forced fumble.

Despite his fondness for the game, playing in extreme heat and humidity was not an exciting or familiar concept for Onyemata. Weather in Winnipeg is regularly below freezing in the winter months. The intense heat in New Orleans caused issues including cramping during his initial season. Just like with the game itself, Onyemata adjusted.

Playing 37 percent of the defensive snaps in his rookie campaign, Onyemata learned on the job. He has played in over half of the snaps available the past two season as a force in the defensive line rotation. There is a close bond with that unit including fellow young tackles Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison and rookie Taylor Stallworth.

“We know each other, regardless of down and distance. I know what I need to do. I know what they can do. I know what to expect from the (opposing) offense. I just like to play as hard as I can for my guys,” said Onyemata. “It’s a brotherhood. The guys in the locker room are just gelling together. They play video games and basketball in the locker room and just hang out.”

As you would expect, Onyemata is still working to improve and yet to reach his career peak.

“You are never where you need to be. You play the best you can. Make small adjustments each week with your body, your hands, your feet. There are always things that need work,” stressed Onyemata.

Like most Saints imports who arrive in the Crescent City, Onyemata has enjoyed how the community has wrapped their collective arms around him.

“It’s been amazing. All of the families, accepting my family. One of my buddies from college came to town. He was telling the Uber driver that he played with me in college. They were all talking about me,” Onyemata said with a laugh. “They were just talking football and Saints. It’s an amazing culture, the experience. It’s all unique here.”

His Saints jersey No. 93 has shown up in games, and opponents know he capable of a monster effort whenever he takes the field. With a scheduled visit from the Philadelphia Eagles for a NFC Divisional playoff game Sunday afternoon ahead, Onyemata will be right in the middle of the action in the New Orleans push for a second franchise Super Bowl title.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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