Ask any team preparing to take on the 49ers who they focus on in the Charlotte defense and they’ll respond with one name: Larry Ogunjobi.
The redshirt senior is a force to be reckon with on the defensive side of the ball for the program’s entire existence. He leads the team in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss. The biology/computer science double major ranks eighth in the NCAA with 45 career tackles for loss and he is second in the conference for tackles for loss this season.
After playing his first downs of football during his sophomore year of high school, he has quickly developed skills and passion for football. The name “Ogunjobi” draws multiple NFL scouts to Jerry Richardson on Saturday nights to see the man in action.
The catalyst for the Greensboro, NC native was when his parents took away his video games the summer before his sophomore year.
“Long story short, I was getting too big. I was pushing around 350 pounds and my mom and dad took away my game system and told me I was killing myself. They ended up giving me a coach named Robert Mitchell and he helped me develop, he helped me get down to about 325 pounds. We were driving one day and he looked at me and said ‘we’re going to your school,’ and I asked what for, and he said ‘you’re going to play football,’” Ogunjobi said.
Though he had a “football IQ of zero” he stuck with the sport and by the end of his first season the defensive lineman won his first sports accolade: Most Improved JV Player.
“It was an affirmation that hard work pays off, that’s when I really started everything and I got really close to the Lord,” Ogunjobi said.
After receiving his award, Ogunjobi’s passion grew as well as his curiosity about playing in college.
“I asked my coach what I had to do to get to the next level and he said I had to get stronger, get faster and perfect my technique. I started going to the YMCA after practice and bike five miles, run half a mile. Then I would be able to bike ten miles, run a mile. My body began to grow and change,”
Ogunjobi went on to make the All-Conference team his junior and senior years and during his final season of high school football he was named to the All-Area team and selected to play in the East-West All Star game. On signing day, the two-star recruit committed to the only school that offered him — Charlotte.
The fact that the 49ers wouldn’t see a real down of football for another year did not faze him. Instead, it drove Ogunjobi to work harder.
“I didn’t know anything about football, so I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to be the best that I could be. There were other guys on the team who had homeboys who went to other schools or older brothers and they had something else to compare it to. I’m the first person in my family to play football,” Ogunjobi said.
One of the reasons Ogunjobi had a lack of football knowledge lies in his roots. His parents moved to America from Nigeria, making him a first generation American. Growing up and seeing the way his parents dealt with adversity very much impacted Ogunjobi.
“I’ve seen people do them wrong, but they’ll still do things for them. It always makes me realize that every day you have a choice. You can either focus on the negative aspects and what’s wrong, or you can look at the positives and realize that you are in control of your life,” Ogunjobi said.
His parents did even more than set an example, the two of them showed the hard work and determination that would eventually translate onto the field for Ogunjobi.
“My dad used to work back-to-back 16 hour shifts. My mom quit her job for me so she could raise me and be hands-on with me,” Ogunjobi said. “I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I have never lacked in anything and that’s a big testament to them.”
When Charlotte put on the pads and laced up for their inaugural game against Campbell in 2013, Ogunjobi became the first player to wear the honorary 49 jersey. During his first year with the Niners he registered 42 tackles and went on to record 48 his sophomore season. Last season the 49ers made the jump from FCS to FBS football. While the level of competition improved, Ogunjobi’s play remained consistent, if not better. He tallied 62 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss — a career high. Ogunjobi attributed the keys to his success to his goal-oriented mindset.
“My goal is to be the best defensive tackle, the best defensive linemen in the nation. That’s been my goal since I started, even in high school. If you have small goals, you’ll get small results. If you shoot for the stars, if your goals are so big people look at you crazy — those are the types of goals you want,” Ogunjobi said. “Belief is such a powerful thing. If you think you’ll succeed, you will. If you think you’ll fail, you will. It’s not about proving anything to anyone, it’s about proving it to the person that looks back at you when you’re brushing your teeth in the morning.
Ogunjobi excels off the field as well in the academics. He is a computer science and biology double major that has made the Dean’s List and the Athletic Director’s List during his time in Charlotte. The determination displayed by Ogunjobi in the game can also be seen in the classroom.
“There was a time when I left the library at 5 a.m. after I stayed there all night and I had weights at 6 a.m., so I sat in front of the door until they opened at 5:30 a.m.,” Ogunjobi said. “The coolest thing is I haven’t had a class with one of my teammates since my freshman year. It forced me to branch out and meet different people who weren’t student athletes.”
However, excelling both in football and acadmeics isn’t an easy accomplishment. However, it will be worth it when he walks across the stage and gets his diploma.
“Yes it’s hard, it’s very hard. It’s frusterating at times but you have to understand that it will benefit you in the future. Nothing in life comes easy, if you want it badly enough you’ll find a way to get it,” Ogunjobi said.
Coming into the Niner Nation with the inaugural recruiting class a two-star recruit, Ogunjobi has proved himself. His name sits in the record books next almost to anything that has to do with the defensive side of the ball: total tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hurries. His name is now being tossed around the tables of various NFL teams and draws NFL scouts to every game.
“It’s surreal. Everything i’ve worked for is happening, but that doesn’t mean I can take my foot off the gas,” Ogunjobi said.
One of the main reasons he has worked hard is so his sister, Faith, wouldn’t be bullied on as she went into high school.
“Growing up, I got picked on because I was big. I didn’t have anyone to look up to. My sister doesn’t have to get picked on because she’ll have an attribute that makes her different. I want to give her that attribute. I want her to be able to say ‘Yeah, my brother plays in the NFL,’” Ogunjobi said.
Being a part of the 49er program and being the only player on the roster to start all of Charlotte’s games during the program’s short history, Ogunjobi has set the bar extroidinarly high for those coming after him.
“It’s all about the legacy you leave. It’s how you’re remembered. A lot of other things fade away, but there are other things that remain set in stone. I am a part of history,” Ogunjobi said.