NFL players with Viking roots tell kids to mind their manners
Wareham High School football legends returned to their alma mater on Thursday, Feb. 16, sharing their stories and inspiring the next generation.
Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper and current Seattle Seahawks linebacker Joshua Onujiogu spoke to a large and engaged crowd in the High School auditorium.
Cooper and Onujiogu graduated from Wareham High School in 1997 and 2016, respectively, and both men played on the Vikings football team.
Both men also credited Wareham’s close-knit community with helping them make it to the NFL.
“I feel blessed to be where I am,” said Onujiogu, 24. “I wouldn’t be here without the Wareham community.”
“Growing up in this community built me,” said Cooper, 43.
As a child, Cooper wanted to be like the Vikings when he grew up. In high school, he was a star quarterback, and his highlight package from those years showcased his supreme athleticism and throwing ability.
Cooper played college football at the University of Maine. He spent all eight years of his NFL career with the Chargers after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2003.
In addition to speaking about his professional football career, Cooper stressed the importance of academics, politeness and making good decisions off the field.
“‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way, and it takes half a second to say it,” Cooper said. “As long as you walk the right path, you’ll get a chance.”
As a young man, Cooper played all over the field, and did not become a full-time linebacker until arriving at the University of Maine.
He had no qualms with his new position.
“With the ball, you get hit,” Cooper said. “You’re the nail. On defense, you’re the hammer.”
As a product of Framingham University’s Division III football program, Onujiogu had an uphill battle to make it to the NFL. The vast majority of players come from Division I universities.
Like Cooper, Onujiogu was signed as an undrafted free agent. He joined the Seahawks after the 2022 NFL Draft.
Onujiogu recalled a conversation he had with his father O.B., who joined his son at Thursday’s event and still plays a big role in his life.
Seven-year-old Joshua told his dad that he wanted to play in the NFL.
O.B. said that if his son was serious, he had to dedicate his life to achieving that goal.
Joshua said their conversation motivated him to accomplish what so many others have only dreamed of.
After joining the Seahawks, Joshua was briefly cut from the roster before getting signed to their practice squad.
“It was worse for me than it was for him!” O.B. said, prompting laughter from the audience.
Both Onujiogu and Cooper enjoy teaching the next generation about the game they love.
Cooper coaches and does private training in San Diego, and Onujiogu volunteers with the Wareham Tigers youth football program when he has the time.
High School Head Football Coach David Harrison, who coached Cooper, was the evening’s master of ceremonies.
Before the speeches, Harrison brought students onstage to dance and showed a video of Nick Vujicic, a man born without limbs who still lives with a positive mindset.
The event benefitted the Wareham Athletic Boosters Program and the Simply You Foundation, which organizes assemblies, workshops and performances to inspire confidence and a strong work ethic among young people.