SURREY — Back in the spring of 2017, when he was still only a ninth grader but playing senior varsity basketball at Holy Cross in Surrey, Uyi Ologhola was showing himself to be a kid already capable of stunning athletic feats.
That season, he put his Crusaders’ teammates on his back in the B.C. Quad-A quarterfinals, delivering a clutch 37-point performance as part of an overtime victory over the Vancouver College Fighting Irish at the Langley Events Centre.
At that time, however, Ologhola had yet to ever strap on a helmet and a set of shoulder pads for the Holy Cross football team.
Fast-forward to Friday in Nanaimo, and Ologhola finds himself one of the Crusaders’ leading football lights, as Holy Cross plays the role of underdog in the opening round of the Subway Bowl AA playoffs (2 p.m., Nanaimo District Secondary turf) against the host John Barsby Bulldogs.
And just like that ‘beyond-his-years’ effort almost three years ago on the basketball court, the 6-foot-2 Ologhola, a true blank Scrabble chip on both sides of the ball, has never failed to amaze despite a base of football reps which pales in comparison to his overall body of dedication on the basketball court.
“It’s no secret that basketball is his primary sport,” Holy Cross head coach Conrad Deugau says, referencing the sculpted guard who will be a leader on a Crusaders’ hard-court squad expected to contend for the B.C. Quad-A title this March, and be on display early to hoops fans Dec. 4-7 (Langley Events Centre) at the annual Tsumura Basketball Invitational.
“But yes, he is a next-level college football player, and that’s not even a question, not even a thought,” continued Deugau of the one-man wrecking crew who this past weekend was named the Eastern Conference AA Defensive Player of the Year. “He could play (university) football and be a star. First and foremost, he’s just the best athlete in the province. That just contributes to his aura. He just does things that you can’t coach.”
Like that play early in the season as part of the Crusaders’ 26-0 win over North Vancouver’s Argyle Pipers.
There are blocked punts returned for touchdowns, and then there are Ologhola’s version of the same.
“He did it by taking the football right off the punter’s foot,” describes Deugau of the stealth speed with which Ologhola pulled off the closest thing to a special teams interception, picking off the pigskin before it even contacted the punter’s toe. “I’ve never see that before. It was the most incredible thing I’ve seen on a football field.”
Remembers the humble Ologhola of the bang-bang play: “Coming off the line I knew I could get to the punter, but as he released the ball, it was coming right to my hands, so I figured I might as well just grab it and carry on with it.”
Certainly not unlike former Holy Cross basketball-football standout Jonathan Kongbo’s rise from gridiron neophyte to Tennessee Volunteer to Winnipeg Blue Bomber, Ologhola is a versatile, physical force wherever Deugau elects to plug him into the line-up.
The week after the Argyle win, the Crusaders were toppled 46-6 by the host Langley Saints, yet what an incredible six points Holy Cross scored.
Ologhola was inserted at quarterback for a play, took the snap and rushed 63 yards for a touchdown.
“After the play, I was walking off the field and (Holy Cross basketball coach and football assistant Anthony Pezzente) was just looking at me, shaking his head, like ‘How did you do that?’”
While he is still learning the nuances of the gridiron game, he’s shown a forte for making big plays right from the start, the majority of which have come at what has to be called his primary position as a defensive end.
“When I started in Grade 10 I was completely raw,” says Ologhola. “As a defensive end, I was just chasing the ball. I had some success, but I didn’t know schemes. Now, when I come off the line, I am more focussed. I don’t get fooled by all the mis-direction. The coaches have really helped me hone my craft.”
Deugau even admits that Ologhola has provided what some might call those ‘popcorn moments’ where you just have to appreciate that something special is unfolding in front of you.
“It’s the kind of stuff that just brings a smile to your face,” he says. “You take off your coaching hat and appreciate how fun it is to watch, and that you are not going to get talent like this very often.”
And in the end, playing basketball and football has done nothing but enhance Ologhola’s proficiency in both sports. It’s made him not only a more complete athlete, but a more complete and confident thinker as it pertains to his future as a student-athlete.
“Before, little injuries like ankle tweaks, they would slow me down,” he begins. “But now, playing football, I barely get injured. My body is more used to hits, and it’s just really developed overall playing (football).”
Which brings us to the big question: Would Ologhola entertain the possibility of playing both of his sports at the collegiate level if afforded the opportunity?
“It’s basketball first,” he says. “I’ve been playing it all of my life and I know my dad would love to see me play. (But) absolutely I would entertain (the option of playing both) because I love football so much. I am open to it if the right opportunity comes along.”
Ologhola has not looked into specific universities yet, and wisely, he’s keeping his mind and his options wide open.
“In terms of where I play, my dad would prefer me to play locally, but I would also entertain the thought of playing down south,” he adds.
Wherever he might choose to go and whether he decides to play football in addition to basketball, expect his special aura to always follow.
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