Jonathan Ogden: From St. Albans to the Baltimore Ravens . . . to the Hall of Fame?
By Gene Wang,
Long before Jonathan Ogden retired as perhaps the most skilled left tackle in the history of professional football, he was simply “Oggie.” That’s what friends, teammates and coaches affectionately called him when he played at St. Albans School in the District.
More than 20 years later, the Baltimore Ravens’ 11-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time All-Pro is one of 15 finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 6-foot-9, 340-pound starter on Baltimore’s Super Bowl XXXV championship team is by all accounts a virtual certainty to join this year’s class in Canton, which is set to be unveiled Saturday afternoon roughly 24 hours before the Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
When Ogden enrolled at St. Albans in junior high, Skip Grant was the athletic director of the boys’ prep school in Northwest, and he used to eat lunch with students in grades four through eight. Retired from St. Albans since 1998, Grant never forgot Ogden’s imposing presence in the dining hall, or anywhere else.
“To see Jonathan moving around among average-sized youngsters his age was always pretty astounding because he was so much larger than his classmates,” said Grant, who coached Ogden, also an all-American in the shot put, in track and field. “I remember one time in particular when boys would wear shorts in the spring, and he was wearing his shorts, and I just looked at him, and I said, ‘Boy, if there’s ever an accurate description of a boy in a man’s body, he was just that.’”
By the time Ogden became a freshman, he had grown to 6-feet-4 and weighed every bit of 270 pounds, recalled Dave Baad, a former athletic director and assistant football coach at St. Albans. A year later, Ogden was still growing while starting at right tackle.
As Ogden approached 300 pounds, his aptitude for learning quickly remained prolific. So intuitive was Ogden’s understanding of blocking techniques that rarely did coaches need to teach him more than once, and by his senior year, he was always in the right place when the team ran the counter trey made famous by the Washington Redskins.
“I could be just as calm as the next guy, and then about 15 or 20 minutes before the game I’d start to get into a different mind frame and just ready to try to inflict mass pain and damage on people,” Ogden said in a telephone interview from New Orleans, where the Super Bowl is being played. “It sounds a little crazy, but it is the way you have to approach the game to be successful.”
The offensive line coach at St. Albans then was Dave Mohler, who played college football at North Carolina and learned some of the finer points about blocking while watching Harris Barton up close. The three-time Super Bowl champion left tackle with the 49ers was a fifth-year senior when Mohler was a freshman at Chapel Hill, and Mohler called Ogden the superior pass blocker even in high school.
“He was just unbelievable,” said Mohler, adding Ogden’s uncanny knack to be able to toggle his demeanor from peaceful to punishing stood out as much as any of his pupil’s physical gifts.
Ogden was named All-Met Player of the Year as a senior and had several FBS scholarship offers. In the end, he chose UCLA over Florida because athletic officials there would permit him to participate in shot put in addition to football, and in 1996, he won the NCAA indoor title in the event.
When Ogden was at UCLA, he somewhat reluctantly moved from right to left tackle. The adjustment was so smooth that he allowed two sacks over 23 games as a junior and senior, won the Outland Trophy as the country’s best offensive lineman and became one of seven Bruins whose numbers were retired by the school.
The Ravens made Ogden the first pick in franchise history in 1996 at No. 4 overall and constructed much of the offense around him. In 2003, he helped Jamal Lewis rush for 2,066 yards and went on to be voted to the 2000 all-decade team. Four months after he announced his retirement in 2008, the Ravens inducted Ogden into their Ring of Honor.
“Wow, I mean just St. Albans to Canton,” Ogden said. “That would be quite the ride.”