INDIANAPOLIS — If football was played in the spring, Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho wouldn't be here. It really is as simple as that.
Wanogho came to the United States from Nigeria in 2014 and was enrolled at Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Alabama. He was a huge basketball fan and came to the US hunting a basketball scholarship. On the hardwood, his athleticism was apparent and grabbed the eyes of the football coaching staff, who asked him if he wanted to play organized ball.
"At first, you know, I was just trying to stay in shape," Wanogho said Wednesday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. "I didn't even know it was football season, so my thought was originally come over here and just start playing [basketball], but when I first came over, it was football season, so I just started playing."
At the time, Wanogho was a lanky 230 pounds and running a 4.64-second 40-yard dash with no training, he confirmed. But as he grew bigger on the offensive line, his focus on sports transitioned from basketball to football, and he entered Auburn as a 4-star offensive tackle recruit.
Football was almost a happy coincidence for Wanogho; an aligning of the stars. He acknowledges that it wasn't something he brought into his future and present with a steadfast goal and dedication in mind.
"At the end of the day, I'm not like those kids here who dreamt about being an offensive lineman, about coming here,” Wanogho. “The whole opportunity was just presented in front of me, and I had to take it. But at the same time, it means so much, just being in this position right now, being in front of great players, elite players and coaches. That's a big deal and a blessing for me."
However, Wanogho is no starry-eyed freshman who's trying to figure out his place in the world. Yes, he's newer to the sport than most. No, he didn't come to America to play football; but he's certain that none of it matters.
"A lot of guys here, they're pretty young, too,” Wanogho said. “It doesn't matter if I started playing when I was 20, 21, 16. It really doesn't matter. It's all about your mindset, the determination you have. I take pride in what I do, and I try to learn everything I can."
Wanogho remains a growing player who is still acclimating to the nuanced technique of offensive line play. In Auburn's power-heavy blocking system, Wanogho lined up on the left and the right, working as a flex tight end in tackle over sets and moving in all directions from two different stances. He's learning everything at once and credits the steep ascent of his development to his dedication.
"I try to pick everybody's brain: coaches, players, everyone,” Wanogho said. “As a player, you don't stop learning."
Wanogho kept this messaging clear when asked about which side he played best on, or if he could fit in certain schemes, emphasizing that every system demands different techniques, keys and focuses. Playing football is inherently cerebral for Wanogho; whatever he does and wherever he ends up, he'll think through it first before attacking it with his elite athleticism.
Following an in-season right knee injury that he played through, Wanogho dropped out of the Senior Bowl practices, won't work out at the combine and will host a personal Pro Day in the middle of April as he continues rehabbing through his injury. Can we expect another 4.64-second 40-yard dash?
Wanogho laughs at the idea.
"My techniques way better, but I got bigger too,” Wanogho said. “It's hard, moving all that weight around."
It was that natural, elite athleticism that Wanogho brought to the forefront of high school recruiting and into league visibility at Auburn. But you can't help but wonder: what if Wanogho had come to Edgewood in the winter when his preferred sport of basketball was being played? Could he have ended up a top athlete in a different sport entirely, depending on which coach found him, which sorts his school offered?
Football found Wanogho more so than Wanogho went out after football, but now he's here. He no longer needs to prove he belongs; now, he needs to prove just how much he was meant for the sport that seemingly was meant for him.