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Rocky’s World: Kehinde Oginni Hassan’s long road to Kansas City

The NFL International Pathways player has come further than anyone expected — but he still has a long way to go.

NFL: International Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs undrafted free agent Kehinde Oginni Hassan — or “Kenny DnexT.O.” as he refers to himself in his workout videos — had dreams of being the next Terrell Owens.

Depending on where you look on the Internet, Oginni is listed as a wide receiver, tight end or defensive end.

Though the Chiefs initially announced his signing as a tight end, they have since listed him as a defensive end. The original listing may just have been an error. The Chiefs have assigned him jersey number 67, which is reserved for offensive and defensive linemen. Further proof of this can be found in NFL Nework’s “Undiscovered” series about Oginni and his fellow International Pathway players. In the second episode (which aired on April 25), they listed him as a defensive lineman.

The birth of Kenny DnexT.O.

Oginni was born in Abakaliki, Nigeria — 6,611 miles from Kansas City.

But the road that led Oginni to Arrowhead Stadium was much longer. It’s a story that spans three continents and is filled with joy — and pain.

Abakaliki metropolis with Azugwu Hill in background, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nigeria
Photo by: Liberty22 via Wikipedia

Up until 2014, Oginni was a basketball player who had never stepped on a football field. But when a friend saw how physical he was on the court, he suggested that he try his hand at football. Standing 6 feet 7, Oginni originally thought he was too lanky to play football.

Things changed when he was 15. Oginni received an invitation to attend a sports camp that was sponsored by the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation. It was an eight-hour bus ride from Oginni’s home to Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, but the exposure to the game — and the chance to be seen by American coaches — was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“I thought, ‘wow, that’s a great opportunity for me to go there and learn more about the game’,” Kehinde explains.

While at the camp, Oginni was convinced by the coaching staff to try his hand at football.

It was love at first snap.

His size and length made him a mismatch at wide receiver. He knew instantly that football was his future.

“I’m not just playing this game.” Oginni once said in one of his YouTube videos, “I am made for this... God made me to play football.”

The camp concluded on June 10, 2014. Oginni and his teammates boarded their bus and waved goodbye to their coaches. But on the journey home, tragedy struck. The bus was involved in an automobile accident in which three of Oginni’s teammates were killed — and which left him with severe injuries.

He spent the next two months in the hospital. The event had a profound effect on him. While some would use it as a reason to quit, Oginni used it as a catalyst and motivation.

“And I said to my God, thank you for saving me. Thank you for saving my dream. I know you are keeping me for a purpose. And I promised myself never to give up. [I am] not giving up on the dream, [because] of the incident of June 10th, it’s the only thing I can do to keep the souls of my lost teammates happy. I guess I’ll make them happy for the rest of my life because I ain’t giving up.”

Oginni spent his free time running routes, working out and training with his local football team at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria.

Organized in 2009, the A.B.U. Titans were coached by their founder: former Nigerian rugby player Amadi Chukwuemeka. There had never been an American football team in Nigeria — or for that matter, anywhere in West Africa. Without any opponents to play, the team quietly practiced on the university campus for seven years, waiting for the day they would get to play their first game.

“Immediately, I brought some kids together and started grooming them,” said Chukwuemeka. “We were doing all these activities silently. For the past seven years, we have been teaching the kids we selected the rudiments of the game.”

Oginni’s first game: Kenny DnexT.O. goes off

In 2014 — right around the time Oginni was discovering the game — another Nigerian football team was being born in Lagos, more than 500 miles away. In the Lagos Marines — under the leadership of German head coach Dominic Muller — the Titans had finally found their match. But due to the distance between the two teams — and the time it took to get the Marines off the ground — the two teams wouldn’t meet until March 5th, 2016.

The ABU Titans won the inaugural game 26-14. Oginni had six receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

WARNING: The music in the video contains explicit lyrics.

From then to now

In the years that followed, Oginni continued his training with the ABU Titans, regularly posting workout videos on YouTube.

In this Titans photo — taken a few months after the victory over the Marines — Oginni is on the far left.

One of the main reasons Oginni posted his workouts online was that he was hoping to attract the attention of a college program in the United States.

His plan worked. He attracted the attention of multiple stateside college programs. But due to the irregularity of the sport in Nigeria — and the high cost associated with getting a visa — his applications to play in America were denied on multiple occasions.

For a lot of players, this would have been enough for them to give up. But not Oginni — because unless you forgot...

“I’m not just playing this game. I am made for this... God made me to play football.”

Undeterred, Oginni continued to work out with the ABU Titans and post videos of himself making one-handed catches.

And then last year — after seven years of grinding in relative obscurity — opportunity came knocking at Oginni’s door. Former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora (who is also of Nigerian descent) arrived in Abuja, announcing that he was putting on a camp and holding tryouts for the NFL’s International Player Pathway program.

“Instituted in 2017, the program aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster. “

Out of all of the participants, Umenyiora would only be selecting three players to move on to the next phase: training in London in the hope that they could showcase their talent to NFL scouts and earn a place on a roster.

On the final day of the camp, Umenyiora called Oginni in to tell him the good news: he would be moving on to London.

For six months, Oginni and his IPP counterparts trained and studied, preparing for their chance to impress NFL scouts.

Then in March, Oginni got his shot. He and his fellow IPP participants traveled to Arizona State University to take part in their Pro Day.

The Chiefs liked what they saw, signing Oginni as an undrafted free agent shortly after the draft.

What’s next for Oginni?

Based on his measurables alone, Oginni is an intriguing prospect.

Standing 6-feet-7, he ran a 4.8 second 40-yard-dash at the Pro Day — faster than both Tyreke Smith and Kingsley Engabare ran at the NFL Combine.

Even with these positives, Oginni is the longest of longshots to make Kansas City’s 53-man roster. The first thing he has going against him is that he has never played defensive end before. As a receiving prospect, he was raw — but as an edge rusher, he will need to be built from the ground up. And at 225 pounds, he is also too skinny to play edge. He’ll need to put on at least 40 if he wants to play in the NFL.

At best, I think the Chiefs will try to develop him by stashing him on their practice squad this year.

But Umenyiora selected Oginni for a reason. And remember: there is a connection between Umenyiora and Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who was his defensive coordinator when he played for the Giants. Perhaps Umenyiora gave Spagnuolo a heads up on Oginni’s potential and told the Chiefs to sign him.

One thing is for certain: I wouldn’t count Oginni out.

He has crossed the globe in pursuit of his dream — and to fulfill the promise he made to his lost teammates.

To quote the man himself... he was made for this.

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