By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun
5:21 PM EST, February 4, 2014
The FedEx package lay on the St. Frances football coach's desk, waiting for Nnamdi Egbuaba like an unopened present.
Inside the package was a National Letter of Intent and financial aid document offering Egbuaba — who comes from a Nigerian village with no electricity or indoor plumbing — a scholarship worth more than $20,000. "Congratulations on becoming one of the newest members of the Maryland football family!" the cover letter said.
When the latest additions to that Terps family are announced on Wednesday's national signing day, Egbuaba (pronounced egg-WA-ba) will be among the most intriguing members.
A raw but strikingly quick outside linebacker, Egbuaba, 19, has traveled farther and faced more barriers than any of the players expected to sign with Maryland as it readies for its first season in the Big Ten. (Recruits are permitted to send their signed letters to colleges beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday.)
Because of visa issues, it took Egbuaba a year to reach Baltimore after being discovered in 2011 by former Terps linebacker and fullback Ricardo Dickerson at a camp in Zaria, Nigeria, intended to introduce youngsters in that country to sports.
Egbuaba knew little about football at the time.
"The one good rule is when you hit, it's not a foul," said Egbuaba, who speaks with an accent and frequently opens sentences with "Yes, sir." He also speaks Igbo, a language with many dialects that is spoken in his country.
Arriving in the United States in August 2012, Egbuaba lived in the basement of his coach Messay Hailemariam's Columbia home for several months while a rowhouse adjacent to St. Frances was converted to a dormitory.
Hailemariam, a former businessman and personal trainer from Ethiopia, said he and his wife, Lana, paid thousands of dollars of their own money so that Egbuaba and two other Nigerian players from the camp could attend St. Frances. Hailemariam, who said he is the three players' legal guardian, once owned the Maryland Maniacs, a former Indoor Football League team.
Hailemariam attended Maryland during the 1990s and walked onto the football team, but he didn't get into games. "I was the black Rudy," he says.
Because he is so new to football, Egbuaba is a wild card. Small for a linebacker at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he plays with a passion and athleticism that stirs the imagination of college coaches who watch him on video.
In a clip from a 2012 game against Severn, Egbuaba overruns the play before wheeling around and catching the quarterback from behind, flipping him head-over-heels to the turf.
Virginia and Connecticut were also interested in Egbuaba, and he said he cancelled a visit to Penn State after deciding on Maryland late last month.
Egbuaba has run the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds — very fast for a linebacker — according to Hailemariam and the player.
But Egbuaba was discovered by accident, and he was initially more interested in another sport.
"Actually I came to the camp for basketball," Egbuaba said. "The first time they threw me the [football], I caught it and I was like, 'This ball looks funny, but I kind of like it.'"
Egbuaba, who also plays on the Panthers' basketball team, is "explosive," said Aaron Olalude, a St. Frances wide receiver who is one of the other three players discovered at the camp. Olalude plans to take a year at a prep school before enrolling in college.
A three-star prospect, Egbuaba had 19 sacks last season and was a linchpin for the small but ambitious St. Frances program.
It seemed a good fit — a player and a high school that consider themselves underdogs. Since the school lacks a field of its own, Panthers players haul their helmets and other equipment about 10 blocks to a patchy, charter-school field for practices during the season.
"I call it glorified concrete with green spray paint," Hailemariam said. "We don't have the amenities that other schools offer, but the nuts and bolts that are inside the school go a long way. Eventually we hope to build it from the ground up."
St. Frances went 3-3 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's A Conference this fall after competing in the C Conference the year before.
A previous St. Frances player from Nigeria, offensive lineman Sunny Odogwu, redshirted this fall in his first season at the University of Miami. The family of another member of this year's Maryland recruiting class — cornerback Daniel Ezeagwu — is also from Nigeria.
Like many, Egbuaba aspires to play the NFL. But he also hopes to study electrical engineering and return one day to the Enugu State, where he was born. He has a mother, Uloma Egbuaba, and four older brothers. His father and a sister died when he was growing up.
"He sees education as an opportunity, and he seizes it," said Sister John Francis Schilling, the St. Frances president.
"He's very bright. He's very mature. Football is probably a path to doing something else."
Maryland’s expected signees
(For more on the players, CLICK HERE)
Nate Adams (LS) Greenway (Phoenix, Ariz.)
Jesse Aniebonam (DE) Good Counsel (Olney)
Tyler Burke (DE) Coatesville Area (Coatesville, Pa.)
Antwaine Carter (S) Westlake (Waldorf)
Sean Christie (OT) Patchogue-Medford (Medford, N.Y.)
Nnamdi Egbuaba (LB) St. Frances (Baltimore)
Daniel Ezeagwu (CB) Colonial Forge (Stafford, Va.)
Andrew Gray (TE) Chardon (Chardon, Ohio)
Derwin Gray (OT) Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, Va.)
Brett Kulka (DE) General McLane (Edinboro, Pa.)
Larry Mazyck (OT) Iowa Western C.C. (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
Brendan Moore (OT) Round Rock Westwood (Austin, Texas)
David Shaw (DT) Spring Grove Area (Spring Grove, Pa.)
Will Ulmer (QB) St. John's College (Washington, D.C.)
Juwann Winfree (ATH) Dwight Morrow (Englewood, N.J.)
Josh Woods (S) McDonogh (Owings Mills)
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