Hard work, and hardship, mold Amani Oruwariye into an NFL prospect

The Gaither High alum and Penn State standout is projected to go in the second round of the draft.
Penn State defensive back Amani Oruwariye runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Penn State defensive back Amani Oruwariye runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Published April 19

Amani Oruwariye spent the past two months stepping on scales, running full sprints and answering all kinds of questions from potential employers.

Those extensive job interviews end next week for the former Gaither High and Penn State standout. Oruwariye expects to get a call from an NFL team within the first two days of the draft. Soon after, his name will appear on the bottom ticker of a national network.

“It’s a grind, but it’s all worth it,” Oruwariye said. “You could be grinding doing something you don’t love. For me, all the work I’ve put in is to fulfill a dream.”

Oruwariye could make history depending on the selection. He is all but certain to be the highest draft pick ever from Gaither. If Oruwariye goes in the first round, he will be the first Nittany Lion defensive back to do so.

Because Oruwariye projects as a second-round pick in just about every mock draft available, he plans to have a party at home or a nearby restaurant in Tampa.

“I’ll probably just be home the first day,” Oruwariye said. “If I go in the first round, I’ll just have a party the next day.”

Regardless of the location, Oruwariye predicts having plenty of support from family and friends.

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But even in celebration, Oruwariye’s thoughts will turn to the one person missing: his father, Alfred.

Five years ago, Alfred died from a terminal illness while Oruwariye was a freshman in college.

“I still think about him all the time, and I know I’ll be thinking about him during the draft,” Oruwariye said.

At first, it was hard for Oruwariye to discuss his father’s death. He felt the weight of everything: a campus far from home, cold weather and a redshirt season as a college newcomer.

Eventually, Oruwariye opened up. He got a tattoo that shows his father going to heaven. His mother, Karen, also helped him get through that difficult time.

Karen, a 15-year Navy veteran, always ran a tight household. When Oruwariye went through the recruiting process in high school, mom grilled the college coaches who visited.

“Amani has always been a solid kid, never in trouble,” said former Gaither coach Jason Stokes, who is now at Pasco. “That’s because of the way he was raised. Mom was a no-nonsense kind of lady.”

It took time, but the painful memories of his father’s death served as a powerful motivator.

As a junior, Oruwariye had a breakthrough, earning second-team all-Big Ten honors, the first Penn State cornerback in eight years to hold that distinction. This past season, he was a first-team all-Big Ten selection.

“It just helped me work hard, not that I didn’t work hard before, it just helped me work harder,” Oruwariye said of dealing with so much adversity early on in college. “Work with that chip on my shoulder, just work with an edge and there’s always worse in life, I don’t even like the term the bottom because, you know, there’s always worse in life. For this case, it just helps you to step back and look at it in perspective, just keep working and get where you need to be.”

In October of last year, Oruwariye honored his mother during Penn State’s military appreciation game. He led the team on the field while carrying an American flag that belonged to his mom, then greeted her in the end zone.

“It was just a way to fuse everything together, from college and home, and pay tribute to her,” Oruwariye said. “It was a special moment.”

Oruwariye said he has talked to every team in the NFL at least once.

So what will a franchise get if they select him?

“A team’s getting a guy with a lot of confidence,” Oruwariye said. “A guy who’s seen the bottom and also seen the top, so he doesn’t get overwhelmed with the glamour or the glory, and doesn’t get too low on themselves, so somebody who’s going to stay even.

“A guy who’s a playmaker, a guy who’s going to make plays, get that ball back to the offense, which ultimately helps score touchdowns and win games and just somebody who’s going to help their teammates around them be better.”

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.

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