The mother of Aberdeenshire’s American football phenomenon David Ojabo has explained what it is like to be at the heart of the NFL Draft machine.
Westhill-based Ngor Ojabo, husband Victor and their other children were in the US last week as David, 21, was selected by the Baltimore Ravens to complete a spectacular rise from total novice to the top of the sport in only five years.
She lifted the lid on a rare experience which saw his nearest and dearest gather in a house in Houston on Thursday and Friday, with an NFL camera crew there to film for a global audience of millions.
Ngor says, although there was “a lot of suspense for the family” during their two-day wait to discover which team would sign David, her son – currently recovering from a torn Achilles which saw him picked deeper in the Draft than initially projected – was ice-cool.
She explained: “It wasn’t easy for me as a mum, I was tense, but honestly David was so calm and cool. That guy is something else.
“I kept on looking over and saying: ‘Are you not worried?’ and he’d say: ‘Mum, some things are out of your control, so keep hoping and just calm down’.
“So we had a big party that first day, and nothing happened.
“We reconvened the next day and continued the party for day two.
“As god would have it, when I began to look at the Draft and the names they were calling, they (the TV pundits) had David within the next three picks.
“In my heart, I was like: ‘I hope the Ravens pick him’.”
Achilles injury a ‘blessing in disguise’ as Ravens swoop for Ojabo
Ngor got her wish – as Baltimore looked beyond Ojabo’s Achilles injury and to the immense talent he showed in his break-out season with college football giants, Michigan, last year.
The Ravens took David in Friday’s second round.
— NFL (@NFL) April 30, 2022
In making Ojabo the 45th overall pick of the Draft, the Ravens set up a reunion with two of his former Michigan Wolverines mentors, a link-up with his Wolverines head coach’s brother, and the chance to play professionally with a friend from Blair Academy – the New Jersey boarding school where David was first encouraged to give gridiron a try.
It was all quite serendipitous and, the way things have worked out, Ngor has started to look at the Achilles problem David suffered at Michigan’s pro day six weeks ago as a ‘blessing in disguise’.
Giving her reasons, she said: “The first was defensive coach Mike – Mike Macdonald – who has moved to the Ravens from Michigan. I just think they both have a good chemistry and if he can do what he did with David in one year, then you can imagine what they can do in the years to come.
"What are the odds that the person who comes in and gives me a chance to play is the guy that I'm following to the next level?" @DavidOjabo on re-uniting with Mike Macdonald pic.twitter.com/9bf8K7op8C
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) April 30, 2022
“The second reason was another coach – Coach (Ryan) Osborn– who they call ‘Coach Oz’. He also moved from Michigan to the Ravens as well, so it was kind of like a perfect place where David could thrive and an environment he will love.
“The third (reason) was he had a former team-mate from Blair Academy, Odafe Jayson Oweh, who is also there, and I began to dream about them becoming a duo.
“And the final reason is the coach.”
Legendary head coach Jim Harbaugh restored the Wolverines’ reputation as one of the top football colleges with their performances last term. It is his brother John who leads the Ravens.
Referencing the family and David’s close bond with the former Harbaugh, and her hope for a similar relationship with the latter, Ngor said: “Even though it’s his brother, I believe he’ll have the same kind of spirit.”
‘I forgot the camera was there’
The gathering of Ojabo’s family and friends for the NFL Draft took place at the Texas family home of his friend Ty Handin, another former International School of Aberdeen alumni who David has often stayed with since his move to the US in 2015.
Ngor says last week’s two-day celebration was a “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful thing”, explaining: “Everyone who has been part of David’s life was in one place.
“He had his parents, he had his siblings, he had his coach – Coach Jim Saylor from Blair Academy… He drove 17 hours, he and his wife, to be with us.
“There was a lady we call his ‘Blair mum’ – Keisha – who was also there, and his ‘Michigan mum’ – her name is Rhonda – and her daughter.
“He also had his friends from Michigan and the American family he lives with.”
After the call from Baltimore telling Ojabo they were selecting him finally came, those gathered celebrated until midnight, giving David enough time to get round everyone to receive their congratulations.
"It's like a dream."
Inside the emotional Draft call to @DavidOjabo 🥺️
NFL Draft coverage on NFL Network, ABC and ESPN. pic.twitter.com/FHtVEm0dgJ
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) April 30, 2022
Given the way things are set up by the NFL – with the TV cameras in position in advance, and the family and friends of draft prospects gathered around them waiting for the phone to ring – is there no heads up at all or stage management about when to expect the phone to ring?
“Not at all. No clue!” Ngor said.
“David didn’t know, and me – as a mum – I kept on looking over my shoulder, not to make him worried, but to see if the phone was ringing.
“Nobody knew – until the phone rang. That’s how big the suspense is.
“I was like: ‘oh my god, oh my god, that’s the phone’.
“He was already mic’d, he was talking and that’s why you see him in the clip saying: ‘calm down, calm down’.
“As his mum, I know David has been grinding for so many years. This was a big reward for all those years of hard work he’s put in, and I was just happy for him.
“At that point I didn’t even think about the camera!”
‘David has already said he’ll be ready to play in five months’
The Ravens’ staff are hopeful Ojabo will recover from his torn Achilles quickly, and they’ll be able to utilise all 6ft 5 and 113kg of their new defensive lineman before the season is out.
Reflecting back on when the injury occurred, Ngor admitted she mixed up her dates and didn’t even know the Michigan pro day was taking place – something which only added to the “big shock”.
She is backing her son to beat all recovery predictions.
She said: “I know David and he likes to bet on himself.
“There are guys who’ve said it’s going to be six months until he’s ready – and David has already said: ‘Mum, it’s going to be five months’.
“That’s the kind of person he is.”
What about the life-changing wealth and celebrity which comes with playing in the NFL – does Ngor have any concerns it will affect her son?
Ngor added: “David doesn’t get fazed. He’s very humble and a focused person.
“He’s not the kind of person who’d think he’s a celebrity. He won’t lose himself.”