Follow your dreams, NFL player and Wareham native urges students

Nov 17, 2022

When Marjory Rakoski watches Seattle Seahawks linebacker Joshua Onujiogu play on TV, she still sees her Joshie. Rakoski, a close friend of Onujiogu’s family, is a paraprofessional at Wareham High School and remembers when “Joshie” was a student there.

“I knew he’d be a success because he’s very polite, very honest, brought up the right way,” she said.

Onujiogu graduated from Wareham High School in 2016 and from Framingham State University in 2020. He played his first game with the Seahawks in September

He returned to his hometown on Thursday, Nov. 17 to tell high school students, many of them flag football players he once coached, to follow their dreams. Since he was seven years old, growing up in Wareham with five siblings, Onujiogu dreamed of being in the NFL. 

“It’s not just pro sports,” he said. “If you want to be an artist, if you want to be a rapper, if you want to be an astronaut, you take little steps every day.”

Onujiogu greeted his former players, who trained, worked out and played video games with him, with hugs and high-fives. 

“It’s a good experience because he knows what he’s talking about,” said eighth grader Cisco Montero. “He’s just a nice, fun, energetic guy.”

“I got to be taller,” said eighth grader Caleb Biedugnis, who climbed the auditorium steps so he could tower above the 6-foot-1-inch Onujiogu.

Onujiogu asked the students to tell him some of their dreams. Eighth grader Ty-Rell Pires said he wanted to be a football player like Onujiogu, his former coach and role model. His classmates snickered.

“Look,” Onujiogu said, “everybody’s laughing and that’s what happened to me. Being in a small school in a small town, not everybody believes in you.”

He called his father O.B. his greatest inspiration.

“It’s very humbling and it’s very heartwarming,” O.B. said. “I’m proud of all my kids, so it’s good to see that I was a part of all my children’s successes.”

Back in high school, Principal Scott Palladino called him “Little LB.” Onujiogu was one of the popular students, but he knew he had to focus on his future.

“If you truly want to get to your goal,” he told the assembled students, “you have to sacrifice a lot. I had to sacrifice going out with my friends. I had to sacrifice the fun stuff because I had to work out… You guys got to understand that this ends. Sitting in those same seats you are now, I thought it was never going to end.”

Onujiogu can still remember the moment when he realized just how far from Wareham he was. It wasn’t running through the tunnel with his teammates as adoring fans reached out to touch his hand. It wasn’t when he was in Germany, surrounded by people who wanted pictures with him. It was when they asked for his autograph. 

“Why do you want my name?” He wondered.

Montero asked Onujiogu how he felt the first time he stepped onto an NFL field.

“I’ve been thinking about this day all my life,” he said, “and once I see the big stadium and all the people cheering loud, for me, it was a sense of peace. I’m here, and it’s easier for me because I’m not putting that stress on myself. I’m already here.”

Some of his teachers and coaches discouraged him. There’s no way, they said, that he could make it in the NFL, especially from such a small college. 

“People thought I was insane,” he said. “They saw the dedication and thought ‘Why is this dude working so hard to get nowhere?’ You have to be able to use that as motivation.’’

He also wanted to do good for his community, and let everyone know that he was a “nice guy.”

“I wanted good karma,” he said. “Good karma is real, and what you put into the world is truly going to come back to you. It’s not all about what you’re doing physically. It’s how you do it.”

He encouraged the students to reach out to a student sitting alone, and treat others how they wanted to be treated.

“I wish I had somebody to come up to me and say ‘Hey man, it’s going to be alright.’ It’s nice to hear someone believe in you. It’s more than just a sport, it’s more than doing what you want to do. It’s being kind to others.”

After his speech, students mobbed Onujiogu to catch up, ask questions and get photos, ignoring the repeated warnings that they would be late for class.

“Can I get a picture, dog?” asked senior Aiden Himelrich.

The faculty surrounded him too, remembering when the NFL linebacker was an energetic student with a dream.

“I’m so proud of you,” Rakoski said to “Joshie.” “Man, I’m so proud of you.”