An hour north of Houston, past the skyscrapers in the city center and the suburban sprawl in The Woodlands, lies Conroe, Texas. Linebacker Joseph Ossai is an area native, and played for the Conroe Oak Ridge War Eagles from his sophomore year until he traded in his red, white and blue for burnt orange in 2018.
Oak Ridge’s theme for the 2019 season is “All In.” For the sophomore linebacker, this idea rings true in his second season with Texas.
“We’re all bought into what they’ve been preaching since the offseason, since the spring,” Ossai said, “We’re all fully invested in it, and it’s not easy to push that aside when you’ve put in as much time as we have.”
Ossai, who arrived to the United States from Nigeria at the age of 10, is another young face on the Texas defense. Used sparingly as a freshman, he has stepped into the starting role at B linebacker in 2019. This promotion has already produced highlights.
Ossai has already set himself up as one of the leaders of this young defense, recording eight tackles and a forced fumble through two games. Against LSU, Ossai sacked and picked off now-Heisman candidate Joe Burrow, his second interception this year.
But as is the case with any young player, these moments come with turbulence. His role is critical, and it’s one that requires constant communication and focus from the moment he steps onto the field. His growing pains will dissipate with experience in the moment, which is something defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has been working on giving him.
“When you get into that and when you get onto the field and you’ve got 100,000 people and they’re going up-tempo and you’re trying to get calls in there. … We’ve just got to do a better job, especially with some of our younger guys of just overcommunicating,” Orlando said. “We really, really went after him on Tuesday … (in an) out of control talk (drill). We do a little bit of a tempo drill every day where we kind of fast pace them and make them talk — I think we got our point across.”
This lack of communication is something that is not tolerated by the Texas coaching staff. According to Ossai, every time they don’t communicate, the defense must complete 30-yard “air raids” — a drill where players start running from the end zone, but drop to their stomachs and keep running every time they hear a whistle. Ossai said the lapses in communication against the Tigers should be fixed.
“You have to be there to communicate because the (defensive) line is really counting on you … to call stuff out, help them out, make their job easier because they definitely make my job easier, disrupting plays and allowing us to make better plays,” Ossai said. “So you have to take that leading role and step up and be vocal.”
For Ossai, the trip to Houston is a bit of a homecoming, but a greater chance for redemption. Though the matchup with Rice may seem like it should be a bounce-back road win for the Longhorns, Ossai is not taking the game lightly. And for the moments that he is back in his hometown where he once played with the War Eagles, he is all in.