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Omameh: 300 pounds of sunshine

Marissa McClain/Daily
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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 15, 2012

Where did this kid come from? This colossus of a kid who had waltzed into St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus? There had been a kid like him in the feeder school, but that kid had been a foot shorter and with glasses — a bit awkward. It was the same kid who showed up to his first football practice in sixth grade wearing flips flops and a wristwatch. And besides, that kid was supposed to go to St. Charles, destined for academic greatness. What was he doing here?

But there he was, Patrick Omameh — bigger, minus the flip flops and the watch — and coach Bob Jacoby was a believer. He inserted Omameh, as just a sophomore, into his triple-option offense’s keystone position: center. He was responsible for all the calls. And, as always, Omameh shined. That’s what this is, really. The story of Patrick Omameh is a story of radiance. He started for three years at DeSales and got a perfect 4.0 grade point average and gave out Christmas presents to the less fortunate members in the community. After Jacoby left DeSales, Omameh shined for the new head coach, Ryan Wiggins, and Wiggins was a believer too.

“He’s really almost too good to be true,” Wiggins said. “I think anybody who’s dealt with him feels that way.” Which is a pretty good approximation.

There’s Omameh’s offensive coordinator at Michigan, Al Borges, who said, “I hope my son grows up to be like Patrick Omameh. And I can’t think of a better compliment than that.”

There’s Mark Dantonio. After one recruiting visit with the Omameh family, the Michigan State coach felt moved to call Jacoby. “In all the years of recruiting,” Jacoby recalled him saying, “he’s never had a home visit like he had at Patrick’s house.”

And, there are the kids at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where Omameh visits each Thursday, regular as the rising and setting of the sun. Here he is again, this man, strolling into the hospital. He’s even bigger now than he was at DeSales, with a presence to match. “Yes! My guys!” he bellows to two teenaged patients. To the younger ones he must seem like a big friendly alien, dropped here by some benevolent race. Football is a hobby of his, he tells them when he introduces himself. But he’s got other priorities. “I’m kind of a big deal,” he says. “I’m the No. 1 tennis player in the world.”

And some kids laugh and some don’t know how to react and they all gravitate towards him. “Patrick always steals all the attention!” jokes teammate Mike Kwiatkowski. The kids are believers too.

***

Is it hard being Patrick Omameh? Being everything to everyone?

This night, it doesn’t seem like it. Omameh arrived in a white RAV4 he named Ravioli, Ravi for short. That’s the way it is with him.

He never planned to go to the hospital each week. It just sort of happened, like when he showed up for football practice that first day. Greg Frey, Omameh’s first offensive line coach at Michigan, made the freshman linemen visit the hospital. But when his obligation was up, Omameh stopped going.

At that time, David Moosman, an older lineman, caravanned players to Mott in his car. One night, he asked Omameh if he had any schoolwork. Omameh said no, and, trusting his instincts, away he went in Moosman’s car. Again and again.

Each time he went, the hospital staff would say, “Alright, see you next week.” So Omameh would reply, “See you next week,” and he’d return because he didn’t want to be a liar. He has been going for five years now, still true to his word, still radiating his light.

Omameh likes to joke that he “revolutionized the game — the hospital-visit game.” His visits are different. When he goes with teammates, they split into groups and visit every room on a floor. The kids always remember Omameh. He likes to say that his group has never lost.

“There’s my man Jalen,” he says to one young boy, giving him a cool nod. “We go way back.”

As Omameh and his teammates sign autographs for patients inside a room on the first floor, one young girl waits outside. Her medical equipment prevents her from coming in. Omameh greets her outside, then goes around to each of his teammates, making sure everyone pays a visit to the girl. Soon enough, she has collected each autograph.

A mother walks out of the room with her daughter, a new face. “He’s funny,” the mother says as the daughter smiles.

They hang on his every word, about his illustrious tennis career or about his preference for long walks on the beach, holding hands.


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