Jonathan Ogden’s football journey ends in Canton


Ravens offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden, a District native, helped the team win Super Bowl XXXV and will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Chris Gardner/AP)
August 2, 2013

Former Baltimore Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden forged a Hall of Fame career by tossing aside ill-intentioned defensive ends and linebackers for a dozen seasons, but even as a student at St. Albans School, the District native was dispatching grown men with ease.

David Mohler found out the hard way. On an afternoon in 1992, he figured it might be a good idea to challenge his star pupil to a wrestling match.

Mohler, a St. Albans grad who was 6 feet 6, 250 pounds while playing football at North Carolina, was back on campus as offensive line coach. He had spotted Ogden, then a senior, in the St. Albans wrestling room during a workout and began engaging him in playful banter. Moments later they were on the mat — but not for long.

“We were just messing around, and so everybody was goading me into wrestling him,” Mohler said. “He was just in there staying in shape, so I wrestled him, and he almost killed me. But he was very nice about it and respectful after he basically strangled the life out of me and pinned me in about a minute and a half.”

Former teammates and coaches at every level used similar language when discussing the affable Ogden, the 6-9, 345-pound tackle who will be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night. The rest of the Class of 2013 comprises Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Bill Parcells, Dave Robinson and Warren Sapp.

The night before the ceremony, Mohler, former St. Albans athletic director Dave Baad and former Bulldogs football coach Doug Boswell plan to host a party at a Canton, Ohio, tavern to reminisce about the third player born and raised in the nation’s capital to be enshrined. (The others are Willie Wood and Len Ford, both from defunct Armstrong High.)

“I vividly remember a game, and it was a pulling play for him,” said Mark Hammond, a high school teammate who played college football at Navy. “I just remember on the film that you saw, it was a defensive end I think, all of a sudden you see the guy completely gone because he’s been completely enveloped within Oggie’s frame. It was almost an unfair match whenever he lined up.”

Those closest to Ogden in high school also mentioned the influence Skip Grant, the retired longtime athletic director and track and field coach at St. Albans, had on a young man whose father was an investment banker and whose mother is the executive director for a nonprofit helping minority students attend law school.

Under Grant’s tutelage, Ogden became All-Met in the shot put and still holds school records in that event and the discus. Grant laughs these days when he recalls how Odgen dwarfed students and faculty alike as he roamed the hallways in between classes.

“Definitely the folks at St. Albans had a huge influence on me,” Ogden said. “Skip Grant was really one of the first people. Honestly, integrity, he walked it and lived it. These guys, they taught you good lessons in life. St. Albans taught you a lot. I mean, it teaches you how to think for yourself, how to become a better citizen. Those are lessons that I definitely took.”

So important, too, was track and field to Ogden that he turned down Notre Dame and other BCS schools that refused to allow him to compete in multiple sports. He wound up enrolling at UCLA, where as a senior he not only won the Outland Trophy as college football’s best interior lineman but also the NCAA shot put title.

The previous year, Ravens General Manager Ozzie New­some learned about Ogden almost by accident. The franchise was in what would be its final season in Cleveland, and Newsome was scouting then-Bruins wide receiver J.J. Stokes on game tape when he noticed Ogden using textbook fundamentals to steamroll pass rushers.

Newsome asked his scouts on the West Coast why Ogden was not declaring for the NFL draft as a junior. They told him Ogden wanted to be able to try out for the U.S. Olympic track and field team.

When the organization relocated to Baltimore in 1996, Ogden became the first player in Ravens history, selected with the draft’s fourth overall pick.

“I can probably say it this way,” said Newsome, a member of the Hall of Fame who will present Ogden for induction. “If we don’t pick Jonathan Ogden with that first pick, I may not have this job.”

Five years after selecting Ogden, the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV, trouncing the New York Giants, 34-7. Ray Lewis was named most valuable player. The link between the franchise’s cornerstone players came full circle when the Hall of Fame voting committee selected Ogden for induction one night before Baltimore defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII.

It was the final game of Lewis’s career, and Ogden said the only way the weekend could have been more rewarding was if late owner Art Modell were was selected to the Hall as well.

Shortly after Newsome received word on his cellphone Ogden had made the Hall of Fame, the two met in a quiet area of the team hotel and shared a hug and a toast. Then the six-time all-pro asked Newsome to be his presenter.

“It was a powerful moment,” Newsome said. “Very humbling at that point.”

Which is how Ogden has comported himself throughout his life thanks in large part to a stable upbringing that included plenty of advice from late father Shirrel, once an offensive lineman at Howard. Ogden’s father assumed primary custody of Jonathan and younger brother Marques in 1991 when Shirrel and Cassandra Sneed Ogden divorced.

At nearly 300 pounds, the patriarch of the Ogden family was a towering presence on the sideline during St. Albans football games. Rain or shine, Shirrel Ogden would stand watch as his son punished defenders on the way to being named All-Met Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.

When Jonathan turned pro, Shirrel missed only a handful of games before passing away in July 2006 following complications from open-heart surgery. He was 57.

“My dad, he would enjoy this day coming up,” said Ogden, who retired in 2008 after going to 11 Pro Bowls. “He was a guy I wanted to be like growing up. I modeled playing after him, and he knew that. I’m just glad that he at least got to see most of my career. He didn’t get to see all of my career, but he got to see most of it, and he also got to see his grandson, too, so that’s the positives I can take from it.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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