When you're on a roll, the world is your playground. You can
walk into Lawry's Prime Rib in Beverly Hills, as prized NFL
prospect Jonathan Ogden did on a recent evening, wearing an
outfit that wouldn't get you through the servants' entrance at
Deion Sanders's house, let alone into one of L.A.'s most eminent
eateries. You can fondle the plastic comb sticking out of your
unfashionably robust Afro, tug on the drawstrings of your XXXL
UCLA track sweatshirt, request a table for five in a packed
dining room and be seated immediately. When you are 6'8", 318
pounds and on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire, the
fashion police are about as threatening as meter maids.
So Ogden and his four companions get the royal treatment at
Lawry's. They wolf down prime rib and creamed corn and Yorkshire
pudding and poke fun at the 21-year-old athletic wonder in baggy
shorts who is the reason they're breaking bread. "Big O is the
world's thriftiest man," says Ogden's friend Courtney Simpson.
"Even when he gets the big money, he'll still be buying those
loaves of 99-cent bread."
Ogden will soon have more bread--figuratively--than a skinflint
like him should ever need. Expected to be one of the top four
picks in this Saturday's and Sunday's NFL draft, Ogden, who
starred at left tackle for UCLA, is already being talked up as
the league's next outstanding offensive lineman, a player with
even more potential than last year's rookie wonder, the
Jacksonville Jaguars' Tony Boselli, who went second in the
draft. Bobb McKittrick, the San Francisco 49ers' longtime
offensive-line coach, calls Ogden the No. 1 offensive-line
prospect ever. "He's the best I've seen," McKittrick says. "This
guy runs faster, jumps higher and bench-presses more than
Boselli. Everything you can measure athletically, he's a little
Right now everything seems within Ogden's reach. In the past few
months he has received the Outland Trophy as the nation's top
interior lineman, wowed talent evaluators at the NFL's scouting
combine and won the shot put title at the NCAA's indoor
championships, thereby qualifying for the Olympic track and
field trials to be held June 14-23. Most indicative of the roll
he is on, however, were two recent trips to Las Vegas, one to
attend the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno bout on March 16, the other a
week later to follow up his maiden performance at the blackjack
tables. Ogden won $3,000 on his first visit and another $700 on
his second. He's lucky as well as good, though he clearly isn't
ready for Prime Time.
April 21, 1996
"It seemed like every famous person in the world was in Vegas
for the fight, and I was sort of looking around in awe," Ogden
says. "Vegas is a moneymaking machine. It was cool hanging out
with some of the NFL players, but Deion was way out of my
league. The way he dresses is incredible. Don't get me wrong.
I'll buy some nice suits. But I'm not gonna get a suit just
because it's the most expensive thing around. Just because
you've got money is no reason to stop bargain hunting."
Such sentiments may sound standard to the working stiffs of the
world, but the modern can't-miss professional athlete, in many
cases, seems intent on following the flashy model set forth by
Sanders, the Dallas Cowboys' conspicuous-consumer cornerback.
That Ogden has no plans to flaunt his impending fortune is one
of many signs to NFL personnel types that he will become a
franchise player. Raised by parents who stressed accountability,
self-worth and respect for others, Ogden seems to be as grounded
as anyone could hope.
"I know he's going to work hard. He's got a lot of pride, and
he's a very smart guy," says San Diego Chargers general manager
Bobby Beathard. "Whatever success he enjoys, I'll bet you he
won't change. And that's probably a tribute to his parents."
Ogden is still a member of the UCLA track team, yet another
indication that the bounty that looms has not gone to his head.
He probably won't earn a berth on this year's Olympic team, but,
says Bruins throws coach Art Venegas, "this is a guy who could
medal at the '97 and '99 world championships and could win a
gold at the Olympics in 2000." However, it's doubtful that the
team drafting Ogden will want to allow him to dedicate so much
time to the shot put. That he has never participated in spring
football practice, says Chargers player personnel director Billy
Devaney, "means you can almost say he's behind a lot of people,
and that's scary. Once he devotes himself to football, he'll
have a chance to be one of the alltime greats."
Ogden, however, would like to continue training with Venegas,
partly because throwing brings him peace of mind. "Track keeps
me busy, and I like being busy," Ogden says. "It's weird how all
these people are trying to get a piece of me. When people grab
at me, I try to avoid it, and track helps me do that. I also
like that it's an individual sport, that it's just you against
Though he is affable and relentlessly polite, Ogden tends to
feel most at ease as a party of one. "Jonathan learned at an
early age that it was O.K. to be by himself," says his mother,
Cassandra, the executive director of the Council on Legal
Education Opportunity, a nonprofit organization that works to
create opportunities for minority students to attend law school.
"Some people never learn that, and they're always seeking
approval. His brother, Marques, is six years younger, and until
he came along, Jonathan didn't have an in-the-house playmate."
Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Washington, D.C.,
Jonathan, whose parents divorced in 1991, developed a shyness
that only in the last few years has started to wane. In
elementary school he once won a spelling bee with his back to
the audience. "Jonathan was so shy, it was almost painful," says
his father, Shirrel, an investment banker. Adds Cassandra, "His
sixth-grade teacher said she would call on him and he would know
the answer, but sometimes he would pretend he didn't know his
It didn't help matters when Ogden's parents, both of whom have
graduate degrees, decided to send him to St. Alban's, an
exclusive private school in Washington with a predominantly
white, affluent student body. Ogden had hoped to join most of
his friends at a public junior high school. Instead, he had to
put on a coat and tie and feel even more bashful, though he did
make one interesting buddy right away. "I asked Jonathan how he
was finding his way around," Shirrel recalls, "and he said,
'Rock's been taking care of me.' I figured Rock was like a Rocky
Balboa type. It turned out he was a Rockefeller, the grandson of
the former vice president."
Because he exceeded the 115-pound weight limit, Jonathan had
been too big to play Pop Warner football, but he flourished at
St. Alban's, athletically and academically, and had his choice
of colleges. He showed up at UCLA weighing more than 350 pounds,
and he was so impressive that midway through his freshman season
Bruins coaches moved eventual pro Craig Novitsky from left
tackle to left guard to make room for Ogden. He was adapting to
life as a big man on campus when track season rolled around and
Venegas tried to cut him down to size. "I called his dad and
really got on him," Venegas recalls. "I said, 'Your son's 6'8",
365. I don't care if people tell you he's a good football
player. There's no excuse for a 6'8" kid to be more than 350
pounds.' He said, 'Well, I'm a bit shorter and not much
lighter.' I had to apologize mighty quick."
Jonathan has slimmed down to the point where he now looks almost
lean. His strength and ability to accelerate, much of which he
has learned from track, have helped make him a lineman who
allowed only one sack in the last two seasons and who is quick
enough to pull and lead sweeps, which is unusual for a tackle.
"He's as fast as any lineman in the draft," McKittrick says. "He
will block people right out of the play, and they'll wonder what
happened to them."
Ogden sent his stock soaring at the scouting combine in February
in Indianapolis. He ran the 40 in 5.05 seconds, long-jumped 9'5"
from a standing position, made a 31-inch vertical leap and
completed 30 consecutive bench presses of 225 pounds. He also
survived the usual battery of personality tests. "They always
say there's no way to fail these tests," Ogden says. "That's a
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches told Ogden they were impressed with
his ability to change his approach to suit particular game
situations, as he did last fall against Cal defensive end Regan
Upshaw, also a projected first-round pick.
The one knock to which critics cling is that Ogden is a tad
soft, that he lacks the toughness, the nastiness, to manhandle
opponents. The videotape indicates otherwise, and Devaney
believes the criticism may be a by-product of Ogden's unassuming
off-field nature and record as a solid citizen.
You want solid? While many athletes end up on the police
blotter, Ogden was awarded a certificate of appreciation by UCLA
campus police. Last Oct. 15, after attending the UCLA basketball
team's Midnight Madness, Ogden and two teammates were on their
way home when they passed a large party and saw a group of
police officers in riot gear preparing to break up the
festivities. Ogden intervened. "I don't want to get too
political, but police officers in this city react much
differently to a group of black people than they do to a bunch
of white kids," he says. "I didn't feel like having them start
hitting us with their sticks, so I asked them what they needed."
The cops told Ogden they wanted the party stopped, so he and
teammates Tommy Bennett and Tyrone Pierce asked the revelers to
A few years ago Ogden wouldn't have felt comfortable talking to
anyone. "I wouldn't speak to girls on the phone," he says. "I
went to parties, and I'd just stand there. I still don't dance
much, but at least I talk to people."
Ogden says that he has yet to have his first romance. "It's just
too much trouble--you always have to call them up and stuff," he
says. "My roommates [Bruins cornerback Paul Guidry and receiver
Derek Ayers] had girlfriends before they got here, and now
neither of them does. It's too time-consuming."
Ogden, who is still about a semester's worth of classes short of
earning a bachelor's degree in business economics (he maintains
a B average), spends a majority of his downtime at his Culver
City apartment battling roommates and friends in sports-related
video games and watching movies on television, all the while
munching slices of discount bread and working the remote
control. "You can be watching a great movie," says UCLA
linebacker Phil Ward, "and he'll still click to another channel.
And we can't take the remote from him, because he's too big."
Says Ogden, "What's the point of having remote control if you
don't change the channel?"
And Ogden has other philosophical questions to ponder, some of
which were thrust in his face during his trip to Las Vegas for
the Tyson-Bruno fight. He saw the packs of pro players with
their sharp suits and diamond bracelets and fat chains. He
noticed the stunning women staring him up and down as he hung
with the big boys. He won his $3,000 and felt pretty important
until he ran into a former UCLA teammate, now in the NFL, who
told Ogden he was up $120,000 for the evening.
Upon returning to L.A., Ogden sat alone in his dimly lit room
and laid the $3,000 out on his bed. "I was wondering what to do
with the money, but I couldn't really think of anything I
needed," he says. "So I went to Target and bought a lamp for my
room--for $39.99. The good news is, now I can see. The bad news
is, I learned a lot about my floor. Damn, it's dirty."
As he recalls the moment, Ogden laughs. He knows he's about to