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Ojabo Oweh Cover Story__Cover copy

Cover Story: The Oweh-Ojabo Brotherhood

Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo became best friends in high school and are teaming up again in the pros.

By: Ryan Mink

David Ojabo had just finished basketball practice when he knocked on Jim Saylor's office door at Blair Academy, a boarding high school in New Jersey.

Ojabo was an ultra-athletic but middling basketball player. Saylor was the head football coach, and he was juggling a flood of Div. 1 scholarship offers for Ojabo's friend, Odafe Oweh (then Jayson), who had a year earlier made the switch from basketball to football. 

"Coach Saylor? My name is David Ojabo," the lanky high school sophomore said, standing in the doorway. "I'm stronger, faster, tougher than Jayson. Do you mind if I try playing football?"

Saylor turned to another coach sitting nearby and gave him a look. Ojabo was a 6-foot-4, 220-pound kid at a school with 400-some students. The answer was an obvious yes.

That was the start of Ojabo's football career. Six years later, Ojabo and Oweh are still together – both in the NFL, both Ravens, both outside linebackers, both with the goal to carry Baltimore's pass rush. Together.

There's a race to the quarterback in Baltimore, not just between high school teammates, but between brothers.

“It seems like a movie. You’re like, ‘Ain’t no way. For real?’” – David Ojabo

'He's Not My Friend. He's Really Like My Brother'

At Blair Academy practices, Saylor would remind Oweh about Ojabo's boastful comment about being more athletic. Just typical coaching fodder to motivate a player.

It didn't bother Oweh. After all, he had given Ojabo the script. Oweh essentially told Ojabo to fake it till you make it.

"I was like, 'Bro, play football! You're faster than me and you have good size,'" Oweh said. "'You're a great athlete. You can learn this stuff on the fly like I did.'"

Ojabo felt like he had to give Saylor a sales pitch to join the team. The best way was to lead with his trump card – his athleticism.

"Honestly, I was just trying to keep him from asking me if I knew anything about football," Ojabo recalled. "If he asked me some football questions, I was done."

Ojabo was born in Nigeria to Victor and Ngor, the middle of three children. When David was 7 years old, the family moved to Aberdeen, Scotland for his father's job. Ojabo grew up playing a wide variety of sports, none being football. Soccer and basketball were his two main interests, and he was one of the top players in Scotland. But Ojabo had bigger goals. He looked up to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and wanted to go to America to test his skills.

So, at 15 years old, Ojabo made the decision to leave his family and chase his hoop dreams. His parents told him he had to get straight A's first, so he did. Ojabo's older brother helped him make a basketball mix tape (shown below) that Ojabo emailed to half a dozen high schools. Only a couple schools replied and one was Blair Academy. So off he went, across the ocean and into the unknown.

"I'm a momma's boy," Ojabo said. "It was tough, man. But my dream came first. I made a decision. I had to put my emotions to the side and just work."

When he arrived on the Blair Academy campus, it didn't take long for Ojabo to meet Oweh, who is one year older and one grade level ahead. They were two big, athletic Nigerian kids in the same dorm on a small boarding school campus. They instantly hit it off, in part because of their shared background.

Oweh's parents, Henry and Tania, both grew up in Nigeria. While Oweh was born in New Jersey, his African heritage was a central part of his upbringing. It's why, when drafted by the Ravens and surrounded by his family, Oweh declared that he wanted to stop going by his middle name, Jayson, and embrace his given Nigerian name, Odafe.

Ojabo's first impression of Oweh was that he was kind of quiet, like him, but that when Oweh spoke, he spoke wisdom. Oweh's first impression of Ojabo was that he was a funny dude. They talked about family, hung out, played ping-pong and billiards – typical high school stuff. They would have hung out more, but Oweh had a girlfriend, which still makes Ojabo smile and roll his eyes.

Oweh helped Ojabo adjust to life in America, gave him tips for his style and haircut. Oweh brought him Nigerian food from his mother's kitchen and took him home on Sundays to go to church and have dinner with his family. That taste of home is "what kept me alive," Ojabo said.

Ojabo had to accept that he was only going to be able to go back to Scotland about once a year. He remembers one time when he almost pulled the plug though. The power went out on Blair Academy's campus and everybody local went home. Ojabo broke down crying.

"He was quickly like, 'Nah, you're with me. You're coming to my house,'" Ojabo said. "He treated me like family. He's not my teammate. He's not my friend. He's really like my brother."

Like Ojabo, Oweh had hoop dreams, and his were a little more realistic. Oweh only played football because Saylor told him he had to play two sports to gain admission to the school. But after Oweh had near instant success on the football field as a junior and the college offers poured in, he made the switch. Ojabo took notice. That's when Ojabo knocked on Saylor's door.

"I was like, 'If he's doing it, I can do it too!'" Ojabo recalls. "If God was sending me a sign, it was Odafe. Follow him. I literally did everything he did."

“Put your pride to the side. The answer’s in front of you. Literally, follow the leader.” – David Ojabo

'We Probably Looked Really Scary Out There'

There was one problem. Ojabo didn't know the first thing about football. When he was in Scotland, he knew about Tom Brady and that was about it.

"People were like, 'Man, you've got to hit – with your head!' I was like, 'Oooh,'" Ojabo said with a grimace. "Coming from basketball, you hit somebody, it's a foul. In soccer, you bump somebody, it's a yellow card. In football, if you don't hit, you're not playing. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but I knew I saw my brother get right off it."

Ojabo was still learning the game's rules in college, and to this day, he says his mom only knows two things – touchdown and sack.

Turns out, lack of knowledge or experience didn't matter much. Before Ojabo ever stepped onto a high school football field, he stepped onto a college campus for a football scholarship visit. The first helmet he ever put on was a Rutgers helmet. The second was Maryland. The third was Blair Academy.

Besides basketball, Ojabo also drew attention for his prowess on the track, where he was a state champion in the 100 meters and anchor of a record-setting 4x100 team alongside Oweh.

Ojabo Oweh Cover Story__HS

Saylor would tell college scouts and coaches drooling over Oweh that Ojabo was next in line. They called Ojabo "Jayson's prodigy" and "Little Jayson." When Greg Mattison, the Michigan defensive coordinator at the time and former Ravens defensive coordinator, saw Ojabo on the basketball court, he told Saylor he would offer him on the spot.

When Ojabo took the football field for the first time, it was clear how far he had to go. In Ojabo's first practice, Saylor lined Ojabo and Oweh up against each other, both in a three-point stance, with the whole team watching.

"Let's see who has the bigger set of nuts," Saylor said. "You have to go through the guy. Jayson won that one, but it was a good battle. David's first live action was someone trying to rip his head off, and it happened to be his best friend."

Oweh only remembers that there was a "big-ass jolt." Ojabo remembers not knowing what was going on.

"You can see it in my stance," Ojabo recalls. "I think he got up on me a little bit because he knew about leverage. We just manned it out. He's a strong man. It was a battle for sure."


Saylor described the start of Ojabo's football career as "really awkward."

"I didn't know how long it would last," he said.

At the boarding school, they were doing three practices a day. After Day 3, a trainer came to Saylor and told him Ojabo would need a couple days off because he couldn't move.

But he kept coming back, and before long, Ojabo, who played defensive tackle, started to dominate. It was Ojabo up the middle and Oweh off the edge. How many sacks did they get during their one high school football season together? "Enough," Saylor said.

"I'm sure other teams didn't know that we didn't know what we were doing," Ojabo said with a laugh. "We probably looked really scary out there. We played the role like we knew what we were doing. But truly, Coach Saylor kept it simple. Go get the quarterback. Go get the running back. It was a lot of fun."

Saylor said Ojabo and Oweh weren't the best football players on the team, or even the best on their defense. But they were definitely the best athletes.

"You watch some of our tape, there were times when the guard would still be in his stance and David would be past him," Saylor said. "It was amazing how those guys got off the ball. There were times when guys didn't even get their hand on them."

Ojabo Blair

'Time to Go Do My Own Thing'

After just his second season playing football, Oweh was selected to the Under Armour All-American Game and was ranked the third-best prospect in New Jersey. He had offers from all the big schools and went off to Penn State.

After Ojabo's senior season, he was ranked the fourth-best prospect in New Jersey. He had 35 college offers – a couple more than Oweh received. Penn State was on Ojabo's short list, but he chose Michigan instead.

"College is the next step to come to the league and I'm not about to go to college and still be Jayson's little brother," Ojabo said. "Personally, I wanted to go forge my own path. Thank you to my boy for putting me in position. Now I got the keys, time to go do my own thing."

Ojabo and Oweh were still in the same Big 10 conference, but they weren't balling out at the same time. As a freshman in 2019, Ojabo was named Michigan's Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year but didn't see any game action. In his COVID-shortened sophomore season, he made one tackle in six games.


Then came a young coach from the Ravens, Mike Macdonald. As Michigan's new defensive coordinator, Macdonald had his fellow coaches put together film clips of all the team's players so he could get to know them better and Ojabo caught his eye.

"You're looking at a big, tall, fast guy that plays hard and runs around," Macdonald said. "I was like, 'Shoot, this guy, we can play him on the edge and see what happens.' How he attacked the offseason really put him in position going into fall camp to have a great year. When we got him into camp, we realized that we have somebody that can be really special."

In a magical season, Ojabo posted 11 sacks and five forced fumbles. Suddenly, he was a first-round prospect. His dreams had come true.

That is until the nightmare. During Michigan's Pro Day, in preparation for the 2022 NFL Draft, Ojabo tore his Achilles.

"I told myself I was only going to cry once and that was as soon as I tore it," said Ojabo, who got surgery just three days later. "I did my little crying and then I was like, 'How can I get back as soon as possible?'"

Before the injury, Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta had told Oweh that he was interested in drafting Ojabo in the first round, potentially at No. 14 overall. After the injury, Ojabo fell into the second round and DeCosta grabbed a bargain, picking him at No. 45 overall.

When Ojabo got the call from DeCosta, he let out a huge scream of emotion before collapsing into the arms of his family. He was reuniting with his college coach, Macdonald, playing for the brother of his college head coach, John Harbaugh, and teaming up with his high school teammate. For somebody who lives so far away from his family, it felt like he had a new home in Baltimore.

Within minutes, Ojabo called Oweh. They could barely get out words.

“I was like, ‘Dude.’ He was like, ‘Dude.’ We were just like, ‘God.’” – David Ojabo

"Just wild," Ojabo said. "I don't even know how to describe that feeling. It was surreal."

'We're Supposed to Be Them Boys'

Oweh's rookie year started with a bang. After not reeling in a sack in his final college season, Oweh got one in his first NFL game. In his second game, he forced and recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed a win against the rival Kansas City Chiefs. Oweh had three sacks in his first five games.

Oweh's second season, however, was tougher. He finished with three sacks all season, and his playing time diminished late in the year.

It was an even more painful 2022 season for Ojabo. He knew he was going to miss much of the year as he recovered from his Achilles surgery, but he thought he'd be back sooner than Week 14.

Ojabo saw just one defensive snap in his debut. In his only significant action, the regular-season finale in Cincinnati, Ojabo notched a sack/strip on Joe Burrow. It was a sweet payoff for all the work of coming back, but the Ravens' season ended in the playoffs the following week. Ojabo suited up, but hardly played in that game.

For the Blair Academy teammates, 2022 was a challenging year in numerous ways, and one they quickly set about erasing. Oweh described it as a "learning season" and Ojabo said he was tired of hearing about his injury.

"It's in my past," Ojabo said. "I've grown from it. It's made me stronger. I'm ready to move on from it."

After last season ended, Oweh got to work almost instantly with his trainer, Martin "Moe" Gibson, of Gibson Performance Training in Capital Heights, Md. Ojabo took about a month off before joining them in February. From that point on, they grinded this offseason – together. They worked out about three or four times every week, about 1 ½ to two hours in the gym, then on the field for another hour or so. That was the routine, week after week after week.

Ojabo planned to fly back to Scotland during the break between minicamp and training camp, but when the flight was cancelled, he took it as a sign that he was meant to work more. He will get to go "home" this year when the Ravens play the Titans in London on Oct. 15. Ojabo called the scheduling of that game "destiny," and plans for it to be an even sweeter visit.

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Ojabo Oweh Cover Story__Workout copy (1)

"They both came to work out with a chip on their shoulder. They worked as if they have something to prove," Gibson said. "It was good to see them feeding off each other. It wasn't like they were competing against one another. They were picking each other up.

"I would describe it as two brothers. That is exactly how they communicate with one another, how they feed off one another. There's times when something might be said or some music comes on and they just give each other a look and they just both bust out laughing or break out into a dance together. You can tell they've know each other for a long time, they trust one another. There's just an energy."

When they're at practice, Ojabo and Oweh keep an eye on how the other one is doing. They each want to get to the quarterback first. But they don't really view it as a competition.

Working with new Outside Linebackers Coach Chuck Smith, a nine-year NFL veteran with nearly 60 career sacks, the two have been lighting it up on the practice field all offseason long. Smith saw a lot of good pass rushers during his playing days. He said Oweh and Ojabo are the next generation. He calls them "super-charged athletic hybrids." Now it's just about giving them the skills.

Ojabo Oweh Cover Story__Combine Results

"I've seen them grow in their understanding of the art of pass rush – how the angles work, how the moves work, why vision is important," said Smith, who has also picked up some Nigerian to use as pass rush code words. "You want to be a technician. If you're an athlete and don't have skill, you'll just be running around. But if you're a skilled athletic person, there's a possibility of you becoming a legend."

After practice, Oweh and Ojabo walk off the field together. In the locker room, they sit next to each other. They used to live just five minutes apart, but Oweh moved to downtown Baltimore this offseason, which Ojabo isn't thrilled about.

"I don't think I've ever seen them outside of five feet of one another," Macdonald said. "They're inseparable. They do all the drills together. They go one after another in everything they do. They sit next to each other in meetings. You love it."

Check out the top photos of Ravens outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo.

After seeing all the work Ojabo put in before his junior college season, Macdonald had a feeling that he was going to explode. Macdonald doesn't want to make any predictions for this season, stressing that for both players, who are still so relatively young to the game, it's about focusing on their daily approach and growth. After all, Ojabo has only played a total of 16 games in college and the pros.

The Ravens didn't bring back last year's sack leader, Justin Houston, who agreed to terms with the Carolina Panthers over the weekend. Tyus Bowser, another key starter, has yet to practice this offseason as he's dealing with a knee issue. The Ravens are betting on Oweh and Ojabo, and they relish it.

Not long after last season ended, the Ravens defensive linemen took a group trip to Las Vegas. Standing on a balcony, overlooking the city lights, Oweh and Ojabo gazed into the future.

"Next year, we're supposed to be them boys," Oweh said. "We have an opportunity to be two Nigerian young guys that just came into football and can turn up the city. We have to do everything in our power not to let the city down, the coaches down, and most importantly, our family down.

"It was a real crazy moment. Now we're in it and we can just feel it. We feel like it's going to happen."

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