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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

King of His Line

A descendant of Nigerian royalty is playing like crown jewel for Dolphin defense

November 29, 2003|Sam Farmer

You might say Adewale Ogunleye is a royal pain.

The Miami Dolphin defensive end, whose name is pronounced ada-WALL-ay o-GOON-laya, is a descendant of an African king. He is also tied for the NFL lead in sacks.

His paternal grandfather was the king of a state in Nigeria, a role similar to governor, and one of Ogunleye's uncles now holds the position. Ogunleye's father, Gabriel, might have been king, but he was too young to take over when his own father died. So Gabriel came to the United States to get his master's degree and raise a family.

"Our parents wanted us to know where we came from," said the younger Ogunleye, who is tied with Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice with 12 sacks. "We've got a really culturally rich background and they wanted to teach us about that. At the same time, they wanted to teach us about the land of opportunity."

Ogunleye, who was born and reared in New York City, has grabbed his chances the same way he wraps up quarterbacks. He was projected as a high-round draft pick at Indiana before suffering a major knee injury that ended his college career. He tore all three ligaments in his left knee and had to have the joint reconstructed. An infection in the knee set him back further and briefly made him think of giving up football.

He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dolphins in 2000 and sat out the season on the non-football injury list. The next season, he was lost in a logjam of players at the position. So it wasn't until last season that he was able to make a contribution. He had 9 1/2 sacks to go with Jason Taylor's 18 1/2, meaning the Miami duo combined for more sacks than any defensive end tandem in the league.

They worked beautifully together Thursday in Miami's 40-21 victory at Dallas. Ogunleye had two sacks, and jarred the ball loose from Cowboy quarterback Quincy Carter. Taylor scooped up the fumble and went 34 yards for a touchdown.

Despite his success, Ogunleye figures it will be a long time before his is a household name -- and not only because no one knows how to pronounce it.

"When you're dealing with egos, guys who think they're gurus, it takes a while to break out," he said. "Instead of being a man about it and saying, 'We made a mistake; he can play,' they basically just wait for you to have a down year so they can say, 'I told you so.' "

Regardless of what he does on the field, Ogunleye will always get the royal treatment in Nigeria. He traveled there when he was 13 and was overwhelmed by the treatment he and his family received.

"They hadn't met us kids, but it was like they had known about us forever," he said. "The quality of life, the amount of food that was cooked for us, the amount of people who came to see us. It was unbelievable."


A look at the 10 best and worst player acquisitions of the 2003 season:

The Best

* Stephen Davis, Carolina -- No player has been more responsible for the Panthers' turnaround than Davis, the league's fourth-leading rusher. The Redskins got rid of him because they wanted to get quicker. Instead, they got worse. And Davis is reminding them of that week after week.

* Rodney Harrison, New England -- A lot of people thought Harrison was washed up near the end of his career in San Diego. The Patriots saw a player who could not only make a significant contribution on the field but in the locker room. He has 61 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a fumble recovery. Lawyer Milloy made the Pro Bowl last season with 65 tackles, no sacks, no interceptions and no fumbles forced or recovered.

* Jake Delhomme, Carolina -- The Panthers aren't going to put the franchise on his shoulders, but Delhomme is performing much better than most people anticipated. He beat Tampa Bay and Washington this month by leading game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter. He still makes some mistakes, and Carolina runs a conservative offense with him at the helm, but he's getting the job done.

* Jake Plummer, Denver -- All the potential scouts talked about when Plummer was playing for the Cardinals is rising to the surface. His 92.3 passer rating is by far the best of his career, as is his 3-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. In four of his last six seasons, he has finished with more interceptions than touchdown passes. Now, the rest of the Broncos need to get on track.

* Shawn Barber, Kansas City -- Barber isn't the league's best linebacker, although he fits well in a decent Kansas City defense. He has made the Chiefs faster, and they needed that to make the climb from their last-place ranking in 2002. This unit pales in comparison to the great Kansas City defenses of the early to mid-1990s, but at least it isn't losing games the way it was last season.

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