In a week of political upheaval and political conventions and in a week things going on that constantly remind people of their differences, Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale decided to change the tone.
At the annual Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon at Big Ten Media Day, Ogunbowale delivered a keynote speech as he represented fellow student-athletes (full transcript below).
Ogunbowale began as a walk-on freshman designated for special teams for the Wisconsin Badgers, but after a breakout year last season after injuries moved him to the front of the depth chart, he has quickly became a leader on his team. Being on that team, being on any team, is what Ogunbowale finds most important about football.
“The team is everything, and I can’t be successful without the guy next to me doing his job correctly and him having the trust that I’ll do mine,” Ogunbowale said.
More than just executing plays, catching passes and making tackles, the team aspect expands to much more.
“Coming together as a team off the field, we learn things,” Ogunbowale said. “And what we find is that, no matter where we come from or what our lives were like before we got to campus, for all of our differences, we are the same in so many ways.”
During his address, Ogunbowale noted that there were things in the world actively separating people and highlight how different people are in today’s society.
But without differences and without different people, society, like a football team, would not be able to function.
“In our world, the things that make us different, the unique things that each member of our teams brings to the table, aren’t things that divide us – they’re the pieces that fit together to make us complete. Pieces that make us a team,” Ogunbowale said.
Ogunbowale then called on everyone to carry the team perspective “beyond the locker room” and “beyond the stadium” because a huge difference could be made.
From being a walk-on, to being a team leader on and off the field, Ogunbowale knows firsthand that if an opportunity arises, anyone can be a leader.
“We are all leaders. So the next time you hear someone react to what’s going on in the world by saying, ‘Somebody should do something,’ know that you have everything that it takes to be that somebody.”
“Wow, the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. I remember watching Big Ten Media Days back home in Milwaukee with my older brother as an incoming freshman. I was still home because I hadn’t yet found out I was going to be given a roster spot until midway through fall camp when one opened up. Still grateful he decided to quit.
Fast forward four years and now I am truly honored to be able to speak on behalf of my fellow Big Ten football players here at the kickoff luncheon, especially with Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler in our thoughts.
But today I know a lot more about “media day” than I did back then. Back when I was watching it at home with my big brother, I was like man it must be awesome to be sitting there getting asked questions by these awesome people holding microphones who just want to know all of these great things about you. Yeah…
I quickly realized these interviews are not as fun as they look on TV. I think it’s because some reporters just ask questions that they know the answer to. For example, “Was it difficult to have to replace Melvin Gordon last season after the record breaking season he had the year before?” Ummm … Did you not see what that guy was doing? I’m not sure if anyone could replace him. But I did have a little record of my own. I think that my last name was pronounced differently in every game this season. So yeah. Beat that, Mel.
Another one I heard a lot is “Why choose to walk on at a big school like Wisconsin rather than just take your chances at a smaller school?” This one is a little more interesting because I really didn’t have any other chances to play college football. I knew I wanted to go to Wisconsin whether I played a sport or not, but it just so happened to work out that I get to play in America’s number one college sports town.
My favorite question I get asked, however, is “Did you expect yourself to be in this situation four years ago when you were a freshman?” And no, I can’t say that I did from the sense that I didn’t expect to be on the offensive side of the ball. But as far as going from a walk-on designated special teams guy to becoming one of the leaders of my team, that was in my plan because I knew that I’d get the opportunities and I just had to take advantage of them when they were there.
And although not all of you guys started off as walk-ons like I did, I know that you all still had many opportunities that you took advantage of to get you to where you are today. Opportunities that many didn’t seize. We as athletes hear the word opportunity a lot. I’ve always been taught that an opportunity will wait for no one, but when preparation and opportunity meet, greatness can happen. And that’s exactly what’s filling this beautiful venue today. That is why you all are here representing your teams and your universities.
And through football I have been given the opportunities to do many things, but to me, none is more important than being a part of a team. Coming from a multi-sport background, when I finally started to play football as a junior in high school, I quickly saw how different it was. The team is everything, and I can’t be successful without the guy next to me doing his job correctly and him having the trust that I’ll do mine. But this extends past just X’s and O’s.
Coming together as a team off the field, we learn things. And what we find is that, no matter where we come from or what our lives were like before we got to campus, for all of our differences, we are the same in so many ways. Sports can have that impact… just look at crowds filling up our stadiums to watch us play, or look at everyone who has filled this room today to celebrate Big Ten football. People that some would say are different from one another – but in reality, we aren’t that different at all because we’re here for the same reason.
Because of our roles as college football players, we’ve been challenged with another task though, or as I see it, another opportunity. And that’s to use our amplified voices to help people view the world more like we do. You don’t have to look far today to see reminders of the things that divide us.
There are forces throughout our society acting to pull us apart — or remind us of how different we are from one another. The coaches and players in this room, and beyond, are blessed with a different perspective though. Every day we come together and have the opportunity to see past the differences on the surface and truly understand the ties that bind us all together as we pursue a common goal.
In our world, the things that make us different, the unique things that each member of our teams brings to the table, aren’t things that divide us – they’re the pieces that fit together to make us complete. Pieces that make us a team. Why not take mindset beyond the locker room? Beyond the stadium? Continue to carry it with you in your everyday life. But now encourage others to share the same view.
In close, what I’m trying to say is if we can use our qualities to take command in society just as we do on the field by standing up for what’s right, we can make a difference. A huge difference.
Being in our position, we’ve been blessed with a collection of characteristics and gifts. And through these roles we’ve been able to be solve problems, conquer obstacles, make people smile, and most importantly, be leaders. We are all leaders. So the next time you hear someone react to what’s going on in the world by saying, “Somebody should do something,” know that you have everything that it takes to be that somebody.
Thank you and On, Wisconsin.”