TAMPA — Patrick Omameh is no stranger to football’s big stages. He spent four years playing on one in college at the University of Michigan. Now, he’s gearing up for what could be a similar run on one of the game’s biggest stages.
From a cluster of candidates, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound undrafted second-year pro out of Columbus, Ohio, has emerged as the leader in the race to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting right guard.
That race, of course, has just begun. Neither Omameh nor anyone else has even put on a pair of pads or thrown a block in anger yet, and the race won’t be decided until long after they have.
But just as he has throughout much of the offseason workout program, Omameh (pronounced Oh-MAH-may) took the majority of the first-team reps during the team’s mandatory minicamp this week at One Buc Place.
“For him to be working with that (first) group tells you what we think of him and what we think of what he’s done,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “So I’m anxious to see how he does.”
The opportunity is one few thought Omameh was likely to get, especially this early into a career that got off to an awkward start when he asked his father to tell him what football was all about. Patrick Sr., who had migrated from Nigeria to the United States a few years earlier, responded by showing his son a soccer ball.
“I was like, ‘Dad, I don’t think that’s right,’ ” Omameh said.
It wasn’t the last uncomfortable moment Omameh would experience during his introduction to the game. A couple of years later, while in sixth grade, he showed up for his first organized team practice wearing a pair of sandals and a wrist watch.
It wasn’t long after that, though, that Omameh caught on to the nuances of the game. Once he did, he began to excel.
By the end of his senior year in high school, Omameh had become not only one of the best offensive linemen in Ohio, a 2007 Division II all-state selection, but also one of its best young scholars as well.
A straight-A student, Omameh was being recruited by Princeton and MIT, but he wanted to play football. He chose Michigan, which was offering him both an academic and an athletic scholarship.
He was far from the school’s top athletic recruit in 2008. With a two-star rating out of five by Rivals.com, he was easily the lowest-rated prospect in the Wolverines’ 24-man recruiting class. And he paid for it.
Omameh was immediately redshirted as a freshman, but his ability to quickly comprehend blocking schemes began to pay off late the following year. On Nov. 7, he started ahead of injured Perry Dorrestein at right tackle against Purdue. That was the first of 40 consecutive starts for Omameh, who finished his college career as a 2012 first-team All-Big Ten selection and a three-time All-Academic Big Ten choice.
Now, he’s hoping his pro career, which started in 2013 when he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the 49ers, will mirror his college career. In a way, he says, it already has.
“I was at the bottom of the totem pole when I got to college, and so I had to work my way up the ladder, and that’s what I’ve had to do here,” Omameh said. “You have to work your way up and make something of yourself.”
So far, that’s precisely what Omameh has done. Though he was cut by the 49ers at the end of training camp last year, he was immediately re-signed to their practice squad. From there, he was signed by the Bucs.
That was a little less than a year ago, and Omameh has done enough since then to stick around through a regime change and to earn a long look as the possible replacement for the deposed Davin Joseph.
“He’s going to be in the mix,” Smith said. “We like where he is and what he’s done and everything, and so I’m excited about the prospects of him being a good lineman for us.”
The coaches aren’t the only ones who have been impressed. Omameh has earned plaudits from fellow linemen, including the one he’s working next to with the first team, veteran center Evan Dietrich-Smith.
“Pat’s done some good things, especially technique-wise,” Dietrich-Smith said. “And he’s getting his experience level up. That’s something a lot of (young) guys don’t have, that game experience. But he’s doing a good job with that.”
That’s those 40 straight starts on the big college stage paying dividends. Combined with his size, quickness and a slight familiarity with the scheme, Omameh is hoping experience wins the race he’s in.
“I feel like I’m pretty athletic, and the scheme here is one that is similar to some of those that I’ve been in in the past, so I think that should all work in my favor,” Omameh said.
“And the other thing is, I’m no stranger to playing in front of big crowds or in big games or on big-time television. If anything, that’s made me even more aware of what’s at stake here and how to prepare for it. So, I think I’m ready for the moment.”