Emmanuel Ogbah's decision to return could pay off for Oklahoma State Cowboys

Emmanuel Ogbah understands he has a ways to go before maximizes his potential as a football player.

Eleven sacks. Seventeen tackles for loss. Five passes broken up. Forty-nine total tackles.

Even those strong numbers from a stellar sophomore season didn't convince the Oklahoma State defensive end that he is close to the player he eventually can become.

"I just have to keep working," he said. "I don't know how much better I can get, I just have to keep working to get to that next level."

Asked to give a percentage of his potential that he feels like he has achieved, Ogbah barely passed the halfway mark.

"I'd give myself 60 percent. I still have more to give," he insists.

It's one reason why Ogbah returned to OSU after a redshirt sophomore season that saw him earn Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors. He won the award in a conference that featured a pair of potential first round picks in Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown and Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, along with other star defensive linemen like Baylor's Shawn Oakman and Kansas State's Ryan Mueller.

"I thought coming back would be great for me and the team," Ogbah said while noting he will be a senior and set to graduate with a degree after the 2015 season. "We were a young team last year and coming back would help us be better and I could help the defense be better."

The sack master the conference's coaches considered the Big 12's top defensive lineman is back. And he thinks he can be even better this fall, possibility forcing himself into the battle to earn All-American status.

"I feel I can be much better," Ogbah said. "I'm more experienced now, I have a better work ethic and I'm trying to get to the next level. I'm just trying to be the best I can be."

Oakman, who has backed up his reputation as the king of memes with 32 tackles for loss in the past two seasons, appears in line to garner more preseason praise heading into the fall, but Ogbah doesn't seem to mind.

"I like being the underdog," he said. "It makes me work harder."

A three-star prospect out of high school, Ogbah put his name on the map with a two-sack performance against James Winston and Florida State in the Pokes 2014 season opener.

"It was Florida State, all this hype about James Winston," Ogbah said. "I knew if I could get a Heisman Trophy winner down I could get my name out there,"

Ogbah put in plenty of offseason work with an eye on making his mark after a solid debut season in 2013 -- four sacks in a backup/pass rushing role as a redshirt freshman. But Ogbah surprised even himself with his breakout campaign.

"We worked hard in the offseason so I knew what I was going to do," he said. "But I really did surprise myself with the numbers I put up."

One person he didn't surprise was teammate Jordan Sterns. The junior safety anticipated big things heading into 2014.

"I saw a lot of it coming, during spring ball last year," Sterns said. "I expected things like that from Ogbah. When he close-lined Winston for a sack, I was like ‘Yeah, that's the Ogbah I've gotten used to."

It would have been easy for Ogbah to think the time was now and bolt for the NFL. He could be in sunny Florida or warm Arizona preparing for this month's NFL draft. Instead, spending the spring in Stillwater, Oklahoma was his preferred choice, particularly with the knowledge that he has elements of his game that need work. His offseason focus is to build on his disruptive nature in the passing game by becoming just as disruptive in the run game.

"I wanted to work on my run game," Ogbah said. "They say my run game is not secure yet so that's what I've been working on, my run stopping ability."

Not the boisterous type, Ogbah was asked to talk to his teammates a couple of weeks ago by head coach Mike Gundy. As one of the veterans on the team, the time is now for him to take on added responsibilities as a leader.

"I don't talk much but he put me on the spot," Ogbah said. "I had to talk about what it takes to get to the level we're trying to get. It takes commitment, discipline, work ethic and we have to give outrageous effort."

Gundy had no idea what the centerpiece of the Cowboys defensive line would say.

"I was excited about hearing what he would have to say because he doesn't talk a lot," Gundy said. "The things he said are the things he needs to accomplish from this point on. He needs to work as hard now as he did when he showed up as a freshman and he'll be just fine. It's essentially like we've been told all our lives, ‘Don't listen to people tell you how good you are.' I think he will do really well this year."