Larry Ogunjobi has been in the NFL for two seasons. He’s ready to start giving back, not only to a Charlotte 49ers program that helped launch his pro career, but also to a few causes outside football he feels strongly about.
The Cleveland Browns’ Ogunjobi has quickly developed into one of the top young defensive tackles in the NFL. He played 930 snaps last season, the second-most at his position in the league. He had 52 tackles and 5.5 sacks, helping the Browns improve from a winless 2017 season (Ogunjobi’s rookie year) to 7-8-1 in 2018.
Ogunjobi did all that after becoming the first player in 49ers history to be drafted, in the spring of 2017. That meant making the jump from college to the pros with very little outside help.
Instead, he would seek advice via social media from players such as Charles Johnson and Kawann Short of the Carolina Panthers or, more recently, Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I didn’t know any better, but luckily they responded back to me,” Ogunjobi said. “It opened a dialogue. Mentorship is so important.”
He wants to change that for any 49ers players now and in the future who harbor NFL dreams.
“When you’re first, you don’t have a blueprint,” Ogunjobi said. “You have to have guys who will set the example. That’s what I am for Charlotte now.”
Although Ogunjobi is the only Charlotte player to be drafted, other former 49ers have landed in the pros. Defensive tackle Brandon Banks played for the Indianapolis Colts briefly, and defensive backs Brendan Dozier and Anthony Covington are in the Canadian Football League. Others, such as receiver Austin Duke, running back Kalif Phillips and defensive back Desmond Cooper, have spent time on NFL rosters. Duke was with the new Alliance of American Football Alliance’s Atlanta Legends, but he’s been nursing an injury.
Ogunjobi was back on campus recently, throwing out the first pitch of the 49ers’ baseball season opener Feb. 15. He also met members of Charlotte’s new coaching staff and talked with some 49ers players.
Ogunjobi said he’s talked with Nate Davis, a former 49ers offensive lineman who played well at the Senior Bowl in February and is at this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.. In fact, Ogunjobi and Davis, who played together for two seasons at Charlotte, ran into each other on an airplane recently. Davis was traveling from the Senior Bowl to Phoenix, where he has been working out at the Exos training center in Phoenix. Ogunjobi also trained at Exos before the Browns took him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.
“He said, ‘Whoa, (sitting in) first class now, huh?’ ” said Ogunjobi, who signed a four-year, $3.9 million contract with the Browns.
Davis said Ogunjobi has provided some valuable insights.
“I’ve texted him and asked him about some small stuff, like what it was like going through the Senior Bowl, what training at Exos was like,” Davis said. “Also what things will be like and what I should do after the combine.”
Ogunjobi said he is also spending the offseason contemplating whether he wants to establish a foundation that would raise money for two issues that are important to him: childhood obesity and curing cancer. Ogunjobi was an overweight child growing up in Greensboro before a trainer encouraged him to try out for the football team at Jamestown’s Ragsdale High. Ogunjobi got in shape and made the team.
Also, when Ogunjobi was 13, he traveled to his family’s homeland of Nigeria where he met his grandfather, who was suffering from prostate cancer. Ogunjobi returned to Nigeria two years later for his grandfather’s funeral.
“He never saw my transformation,” Ogunjobi told the Observer in 2012. “That helped me make up my mind that I want to help people find a cure for cancer. I want to help people.”
Ogunjobi also said he wants to have football camps in Greensboro and Charlotte.
“I’ve thought, ‘What if God can use you in the NFL to help move cancer research and and weight loss?’ “ Ogunjobi said. “I could start a foundation that would help. I can work with kids on cancer and weight loss. I could go to hospitals to talk to them. A football camp could start pushing the envelope on childhood obesity. Maybe have charity dinners to raise money for curing cancer.
“Something that could set a spark.”