BLAIRSTOWN, N.J. — Blair Academy, tucked away in the mountains of Northwest New Jersey, boasts a football team that features about 15 varsity players. It’s also where two of the more unique recent college recruitments have intersected.
Jayson Oweh, a defensive end who will enroll at Penn State in June, didn’t play football until his junior year at Blair, in 2016. He required fewer than 15 games to earn 30 scholarship offers, rising to the status of a top-100 overall talent in the 2018 247Sports composite rankings.
But as Oweh prepares to depart for Happy Valley, Blair Academy remains a revolving door for college coaches searching for the next big thing. David Ojabo, who has seven games of football experience and more than 25 offers, is the latest main attraction.
“Jayson opened the path for David,” Blair Academy coach Jim Saylor said. “Jayson brought all these coaches through the door, which created a lot of opportunities.”
Ojabo, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound defensive lineman, first put on shoulder pads last August. Offer No. 1 arrived from Rutgers in late November. Since mid-February, the list of suitors has included Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Penn State and Tennessee. Considering the precedence he places on earning a high-level business degree, it’s important to note that Ivy League universities Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale also are in pursuit.
“For any Nigerian, education is very important,” Ojabo said. “We won’t get away with just being good at football. Academics will be a very big factor in my choice.”
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Ojabo and his family — parents Victor and Ngor, an older brother and a younger sister — relocated to Aberdeen, Scotland, in summer 2007. Victor’s oil-industry job required relocation and it didn’t take long for them to acclimate in a city that features a large expat community.
David played baseball, soccer and volleyball, according to his father, but basketball became a priority.
David earned a spot on Scotland’s national under-18 team as a 15-year-old. Despite early success on the court, coaches explained that a greater hoops future would be found in the United States.
“One of the big apprehensions was he’d always gone to school from home and never lived at a boarding school,” Victor said. “David was relatively young in our eyes to cross the Atlantic and be off on his own.”
The Ojabos explored a few options and eventually, with the aid of a partial scholarship, Blair Academy emerged as a feasible choice. A multi-day family visit to campus convinced them it was a place where David could flourish.
Ojabo arrived in autumn 2016 and played soccer before returning to basketball action that winter. It was on the Blair Academy court he first shared a uniform with Oweh, who was fresh off his debut football season.
Like Ojabo, Oweh has Nigerian roots. He was raised in Howell, N.J., but his parents emigrated from Africa. The teenagers’ shared cultural background and love for basketball quickly created a bond.
“They have a lot of common experiences, and fortunately Jayson was there to help him settle in,” Victor said.
Oweh received his initial offer — Rutgers opened the floodgates, just as it did with Ojabo — during that basketball season. Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and several Ivy League schools entered the mix during a journey that led to his signing with Penn State on Dec. 22.
“His upside is just tremendous,” Saylor said at the start of Oweh’s senior season. “He’s like a flower that hasn’t even bloomed yet.”
The 6-5, 244-pound prospect collected 13 sacks in five games last fall. Still, Oweh estimates he has achieved “less than 50 percent” of his football potential.
As Ojabo’s first year at Blair Academy neared its conclusion last spring , he couldn’t ignore the swift recruiting rise of his new friend.
“I saw what Jayson was doing, and thought I’d give it a try,” he said.
Football isn’t for everyone. It’s a physically demanding endeavor that exposes participants who aren’t truly invested.
“I liked the idea of hitting people, but I didn’t like the idea of getting hit,” Ojabo said.
Conversations with Oweh led to a meeting with Saylor, who was well aware of the sophomore. Aside from the basketball skills that led him to America, Ojabo proved to be a standout track-and-field competitor.
He finished tied for third in the 100-meter dash (11.27 seconds) at the Mid-Atlantic Prep League Championships in May. Ojabo tied Oweh, who is considered one of college football’s most athletically gifted newcomers.
“Coach Saylor said that if David could run that fast with that weight and height, he would do quite well in football,” Victor said.
Ojabo joined the team for training camp. Oweh, motivated to prove his expansive recruitment revolved around more than hype, set an example.
“It’s like having a clone,” Ojabo said. “I like having someone who I can follow and relate with on so many things, whether it’s parents, or culture, or football. I’m following in his footsteps, it feels like.”
Oweh dealt with bumps and bruises during his first football campaign, and he told Ojabo to expect some setbacks.
“I got humbled pretty early — took a helmet right to the stomach. I got my finger busted, too,” Ojabo said. “But Jayson told me to keep competing because no one on the field is going to feel sorry for you.”
This mentor role came naturally for Oweh.
“Nigerians look after each other,” he said. “I want us to maximize what we have and make the country proud.”
Ojabo lined up alongside Oweh at defensive tackle, totaling 35 tackles, 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 2017. He scored his only touchdown via scoop and score while his parents watched from the Blair Academy bleachers.
It was the first football game they’d ever attended.
“We knew very little about football and it was surprising to see David pick it up so fast,” Victor said. “He started with raw skills that can be sharpened, started to love the game, and now here we are.”
Ojabo, who will visit family in Nigeria and Scotland this summer, is among the fastest-rising football recruits in America. It didn’t take long for many to label him the next Jayson Oweh.
“All the coaches who come through ask me to compare the two and it’s not really fair,” Saylor said. “They’re two different people who are both freak athletes and happen to play on the defensive line. Some things Jayson does a little bit better at this point, and some things David does better. But I’m not trading either of them for anyone else.”
Last offseason, Oweh fully invested in football training and improved upon each appearance on the national camp circuit. Now Ojabo is looking to craft his game and turn heads.
Ronny Torres, who coaches linemen in The Opening camp series, gained his first glimpse of Ojabo on April 8 during a regional showcase at New York Jets facilities in Florham Park, N.J. He spent time reviewing 2017 film before the event.
“On tape, you can see David is still kind of super raw, but he can dominate a lot of linemen based on pure athleticism, like some of the things we saw from Oweh last year,” Torres said. “He had some of those ‘OMG’ moments where he’s chasing down the quarterback from across the field.”
Torres didn’t need to search far for a comparison.
“Jayson Oweh is who came to mind as I was doing his pre-camp evaluation,” he said. “That’s what you see in terms of the kind of athlete he is. I still think Jayson was a freak of nature in his own right, and he’s kind of in a category of his own a little bit. Still, David tested off the charts.”
Ojabo’s results at The Opening included a 4.75-second 40-yard dash, 4.4-second agility shuttle and 33 1/3-inch vertical leap. Top-ranked New Jersey recruit Antonio Alfano and No. 1 overall 2020 prospect Bryan Bresee were the only participants weighing more than 235 pounds who posted higher test ratings.
“With his athletic ability and size, the sky is the limit for David,” Torres said. “The same way it is for Jayson.”
Oweh takes the conversation a step further.
“I think at the end of the day, David is going to be at a higher level in his second year than I was,” he said.
Refined technique and continued development of counter moves are key progressions that will determine Ojabo’s advancements in the trenches. These were concentrations for Oweh in 2017, and he’s attempted to pass along as much knowledge as possible.
“Jayson told me to stay humble because what we have is a gift,” Ojabo said. “A lot of people hate what we’re doing because they’ve been playing this game their whole life and then we come out of nowhere and get more offers than most will ever see. We can’t take this for granted.”
Caedan Wallace, a Hun School (Princeton, N.J.) offensive lineman who verbally committed to Penn State on April 21, competed against Ojabo last season. He observed an evolving defender while sharing drills at The Opening.
“He was pretty impressive when we played last season but he’s definitely made strides,” Wallace said. “It’s obvious he’s a very good athlete, and the work he’s putting in as a football player shows.”
Wallace could spend considerable time with him in the future. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin extended an offer to Ojabo on April 7 when a caravan of Blair Academy coaches and players traveled to campus.
“I sat down in Coach Franklin’s office and he asked a lot of questions,” Ojabo said. “What is my love for the sport? What is my family like? His wife is Nigerian as well, so we connected off that. He was intrigued by my background. It was all kind of intimidating, but then he offered me.”
Per usual, an Oweh reference wasn’t far behind.
“Coach Franklin asked who was better, and of course I said ‘me’. Then he ran out of the office and yelled that to Jayson,” Ojabo said. “We were all laughing about it.”
Oweh is predicting Ojabo will follow him again, to State College, stating “we would be the Nigerian Nightmare.” His presence is an obvious factor in this process.
“I’ve became very familiar with Penn State because of Jayson, and knowing he will be there soon definitely increases my interest,” Ojabo said. “If Jayson sees something special there, I probably will see it, too.”
This familiarity is an aspect to monitor as his recruitment advances.
“I need a place that I can call home and feel like family. It’s difficult enough that I’m already overseas, so I want to feel comfortable,” Ojabo said. “There’s no hometown for me here in America. I don’t have any loyalties to any state. There’s a lot of pressure on other recruits to stay at home, but I’m blessed with being international.”
Expect his offer total to increase as spring seeps into summer. Media attention will expand, too, as it did for Oweh in 2017. Ojabo will benefit from the insight of someone who has experienced that spotlight.
“Jayson showed me that offers mean a lot but they won’t make you better,” Ojabo said. “It’s time to get to work.”