By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 15, 2012
Smiles and jokes all around. Craig Roh agrees. That’s good, Omameh says. “Holding hands is difficult when you’re by yourself. At least it looks awkward.”
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“Really all I try to do is just try to make the kids laugh,” Omameh says. “Anything to put a smile on their face. A lot of the times, parents will be like, ‘Oh my god, my son hasn’t smiled in two months. He’s laughing hysterically.’
“I’m like, ‘Cool. That’s what I was trying to do.’ ”
Would you believe that Omameh’s words hang in the air just an instant longer? That when Omameh talks, the words come out cool like jazz, low and elegant? Each word sounds important — yes, never yeah.
He speaks effortlessly, like everything he does, but maybe that’s deceiving. The football seemed to come easy to Omameh, too, from the calm he inherited from his father, Patrick Sr., who had lived through a civil war in Nigeria before emigrating to the United States. But underneath this peace, there’s the drive of Phyllis, his mother.
Don’t let the relaxation fool you. By senior day of his fifth year, Omameh has started 39 straight games at guard for Michigan. He was named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team — given to 11 players in the nation for exemplary volunteer service — and he studies sociology and communications, with a concentration in business for good measure. But he deadpans, “Procrastination, it’s a lifestyle. It’s so embedded in me now.” Sure.
Everything Omameh does is meticulous. His outfits are put together with care. His notes in film study are scrupulous, his fundamentals refined. The way he eats, “I’ve never seen a more organized meticulous eater than that young guy,” said Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk.
As a freshman, Omameh weighed 251 pounds. Now, he’s 305. He likes to come early to Schembechler Hall to study film. And on top of that, he adds the volunteer work — not just at Mott — and two majors.
“Sometimes when you see a fast kid it doesn’t look like he’s fast because he’s just kind of gliding,” Jacoby said. “I think his work ethic is so much above most kids, especially lineman-type kids, he just makes it look like it’s easy.”
He lives to please others, and now it’s an expectation. As the middle child, Omameh played the peacekeeper between his older sister, Laura, and younger brother, Sydney. When the parents asked where the family should eat dinner, Omameh would always say “It’s wherever you guys want to go,” Laura said.
He comes off as quiet to some because he is reflective, Laura says, observant. When Omameh was a child, he struggled to get a word in edgewise between his brother and sister.
“When he did speak, he had a mindset of ‘Okay, if I’m gonna speak, what I say is going to be profound,’ ” Laura said.
And yes, here it is, the profound: he opens his mouth and riffs on the weight of expectations.
“At the end of the day it’s just a game,” he muses of his life in football. “It’s, really, it’s not. At this level, there’s so much more on the line. I remember somebody was saying after the last staff, they were on the hot seat, and people were saying, you could think it’s just a game, but if we come out here and we perform poorly, this man can lose his job. That means this family, these kids, have no income. You know what I’m saying?
“If we think it’s just a game, this man loses his job. He can’t get on the field or whatever, and we’re the ones performing, but his job rests squarely on our shoulders. … What it means to some people at a deeper level, it’s hard to look at it as something that is that trivial.”
College football doesn’t forgive, even for the man who always pleases, who always gives. The pressure weighs. Maybe it weighs more for him, though you’d never be able to tell. Like in Omameh’s true freshman season, the year Michigan won just three games. The Wolverines played No. 9 Wisconsin that year and trailed by 10 at halftime. The crowd booed the team all the way up the tunnel. Omameh hadn’t played — he couldn’t please.
“I was probably the most upset I can vividly remember in almost my entire life,” Omameh said. “In the locker room I was just — that was the year I redshirted, I didn’t even play that year — and I could choke somebody.
“It’s comical when you really look at it in broad terms how much pressure people put on these 18-year old kids. They really don’t know the effect that it has on some.”
Michigan came back and won that game.