METAIRIE, La. (AP) — David Onyemata's path to the NFL began when he followed in his sisters' footsteps by leaving Nigeria to attend college in Canada.
He majored in environmental science, but also turned out to be a quick study on the North American brand of football — and it didn't hurt that he is 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, quick and athletic.
The New Orleans Saints were impressed enough by Onyemata's upside to make a trade so they could select him in the fourth round of the NFL draft on Saturday.
"I just fell in love with the game; that is what happened," Onyemata said. He added that he also loved "hitting guys and just being out there with my guys. I'd love to do this for a long time."
New Orleans sent fifth-round picks this year and next to Washington in order to select Onyemata, who played soccer during his youth in Nigeria and knew virtually nothing about the type of football he'll soon play professionally until he showed up on the campus of the University of Manitoba in 2011.
"There was this guy that I hoped would be a football player standing at my door," Manitoba coach Brian Dobie recalled. "He didn't know the rules of the game. He didn't know anything.
"When we saw him move, we were shocked," Dobie added, and remembered his defensive coordinator saying, "Shame on us if we can't turn this kid into a football player."
Within a couple of years, he was receiving national recognition as the best lineman in Canadian college football. Last season, he was credited with 50 tackles, five sacks and 7½ tackles for losses.
"The Canadian game is a little bit different than the NFL game, but once I put my mind into something, I get everything out of it," Onyemata said. "I have a good understanding of the American game, so it will be really easy."
Perhaps because Onyemata didn't spend much of his youth dreaming of an NFL career, he didn't sweat out the draft in front of a television. He was golfing with friends when the call came in from the Saints.
"It was my first time golfing," Onyemata said. "But once I got that phone call, I started hitting the ball really good."
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said the Saints expect Onyemata to make "early contributions," and were aggressive about drafting him because they were "pretty confident that he wouldn't have been available had we stayed right where we were at."
"This was a guy that a lot of teams knew about and liked," Loomis added.
Dobie said he was more nervous about the draft than Onyemata because of the affection he'd developed for his star player while watching him develop from a football neophyte into a highly respected team leader.
The coach said he teared up as he announced the news to Onyemata's former teammates between spring practices, and described their reaction as an "explosion."
The Saints were one of only two teams, along with Philadelphia, to send a defensive line coach to campus for Onyemata's official workout, while a little more than a dozen other teams sent scouts. Dobie said Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson exhibited the keenest interest.
The Saints entered the day without a fourth-round pick because they'd used it, along with their third-round pick, to acquire Ohio State safety Von Bell in Friday night's second round.
New Orleans also did not have a sixth-round pick, and used its seventh-round pick on California running back Daniel Lasco.
The 6-foot, 209-pound Lasco, plagued by hip and ankle injuries last season, had his best year at Cal in 2014, when he rushed for 1,115 yards and 12 TDs to go with 356 yards receiving.
Loomis said Lasco was the best player left on the Saints' draft board and should be an immediate special teams contributor who could eventually develop into an effective rusher.
Saints coach Sean Payton had made it clear leading up to the draft that finding help for a defense that has ranked 31st in the NFL the past two seasons was a priority.
The Saints drafted defensive players with three of five picks. New Orleans' first-round choice was Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
The first offensive player the Saints drafted was Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas in the middle of the second round.
Loomis said the Saints hoped to get a guard in the draft, but couldn't land the prospects they liked best. Instead, Loomis said, the Saints will try to build depth at guard through free agency or possibly move top 2015 draft pick Andrus Peat from tackle to guard.
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Posted on Mon, May 2, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer