Drake Relays: Former Iowa football player Emmanuel Ogwo succeeds on the track

Hawkeyes win Hy-Vee Cup after claiming victories in three relays

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DES MOINES — Emmanuel Ogwo looked up out of the blocks Saturday at Drake Stadium, baton in hand, ready to strike.

This was his time. His 1,600-meter relay team? Good. He knew that. Iowa had finished 5th at the NCAA indoor meet earlier in the year and had picked up the seventh-best time in the nation at the Florida Relays in late March.

The Hawkeyes’ combination during the Drake Relays — Ogwo, Collin Hofacker, DeJuan Frye and Mar’yea Harris — was a tad different in Florida. This version, however, was the group at the indoor meet and will be the squad that, barring injury, will compete in June at the NCAA outdoor championships.

Ogwo has always been a part of this group, one that on Saturday won a Drake Relays 1,600-meter relay title for Iowa for the first time since 1967.

Well, not always, actually. He was a football player less than a year ago but recruited with the idea he might be able to do track as well.

“It was hard,” Ogwo. “People, they ask me how much I miss track and how much I miss football. It was the same.”

An absolute stud in high school track, his talent for that sport was never in question. But, there was just something missing.

A wide receiver, he saw two of his best friends — Adrian Falconer and Jerminic Smith — move past him on the depth chart. He just wasn’t happy. He’s a big self-talker and felt he had this perception about himself he didn’t like, calling it a negative vibe.

So, he decided to take his talents to the track. Immediately, Iowa head coach Joey Woody impressed upon Ogwo that he wanted to take things slow. Woody wanted him to actually enjoy himself and just compete — a balance Ogwo couldn’t seem to find in football.

Exiting the track after his Relays win — which he led off — it wasn’t hard to tell that he’d found what he was meant to be doing. There was confidence, a funny mention of how much Woody loves Drake (the Iowa coach’s son is named Drake) and, overall, he just looked comfortable.

“It’s just a blessing to be a part of this team, a blessing to be around these athletes,” Ogwo said. “They’re good to build with.”

Oh, and how Iowa built. The Hawkeyes won four relays on Saturday — the aforementioned 1,600-meter, the men’s 400-meter, the men’s sprint medley and the women’s 400-meter. The men’s team won the Hy-Vee Cup, a team relays trophy

Reno Tuufuli picked up a victory in the discus, while Aaron Mallett was finally able to win his first Drake Relays flag. The star hurdler finished in 13.47 seconds, which is the best time of the year for him and moves him into fourth at the collegiate level.

“He’s been fighting to get that title for years, he’s had Olympic gold medalists ahead of him and some other guys who have turned pro,” Woody said. “It was good to see him get that today.”

Mallett has been good for years and when Ogwo was told it was the senior’s first Relays title, his face was priceless. He turned over to the rest of his relay, looking for assurance that this was, in fact, correct.

He got it, turned back, slightly shaking his head in disbelief, perhaps realizing he wasn’t the only one who had a first on a rainy, wet Saturday at the historic Drake Relays.

l Comments: jordan.hansen@thegazette.com

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