Quarterbacks wear red jerseys in practice as a reminder for defenders to pull up in lieu of friendly fire. Red, in most places means stop, like at a common roadway intersection. For one Dolphins defensive end though, traffic lights were not always a part of everyday life.
Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Emmanuel Ogbah moved to Houston, Texas with his family when he was nine years old. Nigeria was steeped in corruption, Emmanuel said, prompting Richard Ogbah – Emmanuel's father – to pursue a better life for he and his family. Despite earning a college degree and obtaining a lucrative job as a bank manager, Richard wanted more.
"The reason my dad decided to move us here was because there was a lot of corruption going on," Ogbah said. "My dad had a dream to come here. He wanted to give us a better life. So, for me, I just took the opportunity and ran with it."
"I attribute my hard work to him," he added. "Looking up to him and seeing him work hard for his family, that just inspires me to work harder."
Ogbah cashed in on the opportunity. An All-Big 12 selection at Oklahoma State, Ogbah came off the board in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft to Cleveland. The example set by his father and the determined work ethic instilled in young Emmanuel had paid off.
"He taught me to be humble," Ogbah said of his father, Richard. "I learned to be humble and to do your assignment and do your job; to give your best every time and to be thankful."
After three years in Cleveland, Ogbah was traded to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in 2019. Recording 5.5 sacks in the first 10 games, Ogbah was off the hottest start of his NFL career, but wouldn't get to see it through. He was injured in Week 10 and would miss the rest of the season.
"It was definitely tough watching them play, but I'm glad (they won the Super Bowl)," Ogbah said. "I'm happy for my brothers. They went out there, did their thing. I still get a ring, so I'm excited about that; but it was actually a cool experience the whole Super Bowl. It was dope. I'm just glad I was a part of it, too."
With an expiring contract, Ogbah knew he'd have options on the free agent market. Three factors helped him determine where his football journey would take him next. From Houston to Stillwater, then to Cleveland and Kansas City in the NFL, getting back to that warm weather was among those factors, if Ogbah is being honest with himself.
"It's beautiful here," Ogbah said about living in South Florida. "The weather. It's never cold. There's usually a nice breeze. The beach. This is like my second home because I train out here every offseason. I love it here."
The most important reason for Ogbah's decision to take his talents to South Beach, a shared trust between he and his coaches.
"The coaches trust me and I trust them," he said. "They let me do my thing and believe in me, so I'm just excited they gave me the opportunity."
As he did as a youth, Ogbah is taking the opportunity and running with it.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound, long-armed do-it-all defender leads the Dolphins with five sacks. Those five sacks are tied for fourth-most in the league and his 25 QB pressures are tied for eighth in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. That production is part of the equation for why Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores is pleased with Ogbah's start to his Miami career.
"He's played multiple positions," Flores said. "He's smart, he's tough. I think he's done a good job."
In addition to the pass-rushing prowess, Ogbah is holding up his end of the bargain in the running game. PFF tracks a stat they call run stops, which accounts for tackles in the running game made within two yards of the line scrimmage. Ogbah has 11 run stops – the 12th-highest mark among all edge defenders in 2020.
"The sacks are the big stat for a lot of people but I think he's doing a good job in the run game, setting the edge, tackling," Flores said. "When he has to deal with a double-team block, he deals with it and has no problem taking on a double and freeing up another guy. Those are the plays that aren't flash plays, but they are important plays for any team."
Six games into his fifth NFL season, Ogbah is on track to set career highs across the board. He has a sack in each of the last three games and at least half of a sack in the last five. At the ripe age of 26, Ogbah is in the sweet spot of his football career where the rare physical traits are still very much apparent, but he can now attribute added wisdom as a factor for his current hot streak
"As I get older, my feel for the game grows," Ogbah said. "The saying goes when you get older, you get wiser and that's true for me. It helps me stay focused when watching film. I see things I didn't see before, just watching the little details. That's really helped my game."
From his collegiate days, Ogbah quickly learned the importance of conditioning. Playing in a spread out conference like the Big 12, the Oklahoma State defense's mantra was to run. Then run some more. And when they were done running, they ran some more.
Now a grizzled vet, Ogbah leans on the youthful energy of Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins for a two-way-street of accountability.
"We inspire each other and take pride when we're out there," Ogbah said of his relationship with Wilkins. "We make sure everyone's playing together and playing hard. He gets on my butt if I'm not running to the ball and we hold each other accountable."
Is there anything else Wilkins does that sticks out in Ogbah's mind?
"He loves Hamilton," Ogbah said behind a laugh. "He sings that all the time. He's a good dude. We love having him here. He brings great energy to us."
With a sack total that grows each week, Ogbah's growth is tangible. The production is a product of the work he puts in, says Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer.
"He's very multiple and I think the other thing is he's a hard worker," Boyer said. "I think with a lot of things that we ask him to do, we can be multiple with that. He's been able to do that and he's shown constant improvement week after week."
When you see Ogbah, it's easy to see why he's productive because he looks the part. When you get to know his back-story, it's easy to tell why it's all coming together for him in Miami.
"I know what hard work looks like. I know what it means to sacrifice," Ogbah said.