Thanks to the strong Berkeley network, I got a chance to speak with Ernest Owusu, former Defensive End for Cal and now the Minnesota Vikings. We discussed a variety of topics including Cal football, Cal academics, his signing as an un-drafted free agent with the Vikings, and everything in between.
At 6'5, 270, Owusu has a special combination of strength and agility. From 2007-2011, he played in 42 games recording 55 tackles, 14 tackles for loss (-61 yards), 8 sacks (-49 yards), five pass breakups and one forced fumble. Along the way, he not only got his bachelors degree in Political Economy, but also earned second-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection during both his sophomore and junior years, and first-team Pac-12 All-Academic honors as a senior.
Check out the original interview at Metta Chronicles
Life after Cal/Getting ready for professional career
Owusu graduated from Berkeley in December 2011, and wasted no time getting ready for his NFL career. Quite often, as fans of the game, we tend to forget how difficult the job of an athlete really is. 'All they have to do is go out there and play the game they love' ... right? No, not at all. They're learning something new every single moment, and more importantly, have to implement what they're learning immediately. There's absolutely no time to step back and relax, and especially for an someone trying to make a team, life is moving forward at full speed.
It's been [an] amazing process, this whole thing's moving pretty fast. Honestly, I'm just trying to take in as much as I can. The transition from college to NFL ... Transition has not been as bad as it may seem.
What's been the key to this whole process?
Everything goes so fast, meeting so many people … but I'm just trying to be a sponge and soak it all in. After things ended at Cal, it's all been bam bam bam but I think I'm dealing with it well.
Pro Day/NFL Combine
Although Owusu was not invited to the 2012 NFL Combine, his performance at Cal's 2012 Pro Day got the attention of scouts and teams across the country. He bench pressed 39 reps of 225 pounds, which would have been good for third at the 2012 NFL Combine, and his 40-yard dash time of 4.76 seconds would have been fifth among defensive linemen in Indianapolis.
Going unnoticed like this, what type of impact did it have on you mentally?
The way I'm looking at it, it's just like being a walk-on in college. All you can do is take it in stride, compete to your full ability, and most importantly, can't take anything for granted.
I like going under the radar, its always been like that for me, and it [lack of hype] motivates me.
Finding the right team
After his Pro Day and through the draft, there were a few rumors floating around that Owusu would meet with the Tennessee Titans, work out for them and see how things went from there on.
How did you land on the Vikings? Why them?
Well, I visited the Titans, and Bengals. Had some workouts for both the teams, spoke to team personnel. I'm actually from Nashville, so working out for the Titans was pretty cool. After some workouts, I talked to my agent and we both agreed that the Vikings were a good fit. I like the coaching staff there. It wasn't just a random choice of mine, where I said Minnesota for no real reason ... I got a good feeling when I worked out with them.
The Vikings picked your teammate from Cal, Trevor Guyton in the 7th round of the draft. What's it like competing with him for a spot on the roster?
It's actually great. We know each other well, and it's good 'cuz we can both take care of each other, which is helpful being in a new city. It's funny too, I came into Berkeley in 07 and that season, I was Trevor's host when he was a possible recruit, showing him around the school and stuff before he came to Cal in 08. Now we're just trying our best to make it at the next level.
Owusu will be joining a defensive front featuring perhaps the best defensive end in the league in Jared Allen. When you watch him play, what makes him so dynamic? What do you hope to learn from him?
All I can say is that I'm fortunate man, just really happy. It all comes down to how much you want it. He's all-pro, pro bowl guy ... I'm looking forward to learning as much I can from him. Just gotta soak it all in.
Mentors in NFL
I wanna model my career after him [Jared Allen]. If I get a chance to go out there, I'm going to contribute, put up stats. Also, Brian Robison on the Vikings too, I want to be just like them, model my game around them.
Last year, the Vikings were 2nd to last in points allowed. What kind of impact can you make on the team to help that?
Just gotta look at it like it's a new season, there's new personnel and right now, my job is to make the team. I can't worry about things like that, all I'm trying to do is showcase my abilities and work hard.
On the Vikings 4-3 formation ...
In my first year at Cal, when I red shirted, we ran a 4-3. But then, from 2008-2012, it's been a 3-4. It's definitely all brand new to me, but when I was looking at possible teams to sign with, I did look at the formations. In high school, I played in a 4-3 formation and I like it.
NFL vs College
People often claim that the speed of the game in the NFL is much faster than in college. What are some of the other differences you see between the college game and the NFL game?
This is it, the NFL .. it's the highest level of football played. Best of the best, I wanna compete. I wanna see what that actually is, and see if I can compete. I know I can. When you come to college from high school, it's a step up and you do everything you can to prepare. You just want to compete and prove yourself at the next level. From college to the pros, its the same thing. Just gotta compete.
Relationship with other Cal players in NFL
I'm close with guys like Cameron Jordan, we came in the same class ... both Trevor and I have been talking to him, getting as much advice as possible. I was roomates with Shane Vereen, that's my best friend. We talk a lot, they have experience. He [Vereen] looks out for me, we want to help each other succeed.
Overall Cal Experience
Historically, Cal football players have been successful at the professional level. Especially in the last four, five years, we've seen Cal-produced talent go to the NFL and make an impact immediately. Do you think Cal prepares you guys better than other schools would have?
Yeah, definitely. If you can successfully get through Cal, you can do almost anything. Both academically and athletically, it's two jobs. You need to have discipline, time management and if you're able to do that, other stuff is a lot easier. After that, everything is cake. There's a lot of expectations at Cal, and that's what makes us successful. When you leave school, and all you're doing is playing football, it feels a lot easier. We're student-athletes, and that responsibility helps us down the road.
I've already mentioned that you received a number of academic honors while at Cal. Was there any class that still stands out to you?
There was one class, 2nd semester of my freshman year [Spring 2008 with Prof Olney]- Econ 1. It's not that hard of a class, but it was the first class that challenged me. With that class, it taught me that I can’t coast, I gotta work for it. Didn't put my focus in it at the beginning, but realized that if I put all my energy into something, I come out on top. I took that and ran.
If you've ever lived in Berkeley or even in the vicinity, you know how good the food is in that town. So many restaurants, everything open late, it spoils all of us. Owusu moved from Berkeley to Minnesota a few months back, and I thought it'd be fun to ask him what food he would want delivered out there.
Haha, man that's a tough one. If I could have anything delivered, from Berkeley area ... I got addicted to Mandarin House and Gypsies. From gypsies, it'd be the godfather. From Mandarin House, szechuan chicken.
If I wasn't playing football ... I'd try to get a front office job with an organization, I love football. I also interned with a bank for 2 summers so maybe something relating to wealth management.
If you look at my track record, I've been always under the radar, but I'm confident … I’ve always come out on top. I don’t plan on losing that quality. I hope to continue my trend of just working hard and giving it my all, hope to succeed. I'm going to use that in the NFL. Not hope, I guarantee it.