Three years removed from not knowing how many players were on the field for an American football game, Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. is now a potential starter for Auburn’s offensive line.
The Nigerian-born athlete had traveled from Nigeria to Montgomery, Ala. in 2014 with a dream to play in the NBA. He saw movies about a better life in the United States, he said, where everyone came to enjoy their own American Dream.
During basketball’s off-season, the then 6-foot-8, 245-pound talent was asked by his basketball coach if he wanted to give American football a chance. The one movie Wanogho distinctly remembers about American football is 2009’s The Blind Side.
“I thought I’d just try to do it before basketball season started,” Wanogho said. “They put pads on me, a helmet and straps, and all they told me was to go tackle the quarterback.”
While playing for Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Ala., Wanogho was more focused on hitting the quarterback than anything else. At this point, Wanogho understood 11 players on the field: five linemen on each side and a quarterback.
As a strongside defensive end, Rivals.com ranked Wanogho as the No. 6 prospect in Alabama as a 4-star recruit and No. 9 nationally at his position.
Wanogho visited Auburn University on Jan. 30, 2015 while being recruited by then defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and later signed a letter of intent on Feb. 3.
It wasn’t a mystery that Wanogho was new to American football -- he was more accomplished swimming than he was running down offensive tackles just a year prior.
Yet, despite not knowing too much about the game stepping on Auburn’s campus, current defensive coordinator Kevin Steele compared Wanogho to a sponge for his quick learning abilities. Other players described him as an ox with the speed of a gazelle.
“It’s easy for me to understand,” Wanogho said. “Once I see it, it’s easy for me to go do it.”
After redshirting his freshman season, Wanogho learned exponentially more about the game of American football. He learned how to recognize the offense and how to properly set up a three-point stance -- the stance used by all linemen prior to the ball being snapped.
Wanogho compared his accelerated learning process to that of a toddler, because “you’re just so curious” and open to interpretation without having any previous knowledge.
During the 2016 off-season, Wanogho transitioned from defensive end to offensive tackle. Having grown up with seven sisters at home, Wanogho says it was easy to get started with a natural instinct to protect.
“I remember one day… coach asked me ‘Do you see yourself playing [offensive line]?’ and I was like ‘I don’t really care, I don’t really know what I’m doing,’” he said.
Wanogho played in 10 games during the 2016 season as a reserve offensive tackle.. He spent time with his teammates Alex Kozan, Braden Smith and Darius James to properly understand how the offensive line works.
“I remember my transition from defense to offense, and I didn’t know what I was doing,” Wanogho said. “Braden and Darius, they took me under their wings and showed me what to do.”
James, the starting left offensive tackle for the 2016-17 season, is suspected to move to offensive guard if Wanogho continues to impress.
Now with a dream to play in the NFL, the 305-pound Wanogho has transformed himself into a growing font of American football knowledge and experience.
“It’s been like a dream,” he said. “I remember coming in here as a freshman and not knowing what I was doing. I didn’t expect to be here today.”