AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho’s first exposure to American football in Nigeria came through movies such as The Blind Side.
When he came to America and first started playing football in 2014, Wanogho didn’t know much about the rules. He couldn’t get down into a three-point stance, and he didn’t understand the different positions — except for one.
“I always knew the quarterback,” Wanogho said with a grin Wednesday night. “Everybody knows about the quarterback.”
In his one and only season at Edgewood Academy, Wanogho became the quarterback’s biggest enemy. The 6-foot-7 sophomore, who came to America with dreams of playing in the NBA, lined up at defensive end.
“They put pads on me and a helmet,” Wanogho said. “Just strapped it on, and all they said was, ‘Go tackle the quarterback.’ ”
By the end of his first year of football, Wanogho had 82 tackles, 4 sacks, 8 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles. He also had 4 stars next to his name as the No. 8 strong-side defensive end in the nation.
Wangoho became an overnight sensation in the recruiting landscape. Auburn signed him in February 2015 as a project for defensive line coach Rodney Garner and then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
But being on the attack wasn’t in Wanogho’s blood. As a brother to seven sisters, his first instinct has always been to protect.
“That’s one of my biggest attributes,” Wanogho said. “I like to protect a lot. It’s easy for me to do that.”
So after Wanogho recovered from breaking a leg in a high school basketball game and redshirted for Auburn in 2015, the Tigers moved him from defense to offense. Wanogho said the idea first came from current Auburn offensive lineman Braden Smith and former left guard Alex Kozan.
Wanogho switched positions in the summer of 2016. While he had zero offensive line experience, it turned out to be a positive. He didn’t come to Herb Hand’s offensive line with any bad habits, and he was frequently referred to as a “sponge,” soaking up as much knowledge as he could about his new home.
“From where he was at this time last year to where he is now is an astronomical difference,” Hand said. “It’s really a credit to him and his work ethic and his coachability. He’s a very coachable guy. His want-to is at a very high level.”
A few months after making the move, he was practicing with Smith and Kozan in the two-deep. Wanogho played in 10 games last season for the Tigers as the backup to left tackle Darius James.
“Prince Tega in the last year, he’s probably the most improved player on the team coming from not playing football at all to playing defensive line, to playing offensive line,” James said.
Wanogho’s meteoric rise continued into 2017, where he put together a strong spring camp. Last week, he became a fixture on the first-team offensive line at left tackle, with James over to the right side and Smith back home at right guard.
Three years after not having a single snap of football experience, Wanogho is on track to start at left tackle in the SEC.
“He showed a lot of flash in the spring from the standpoint of he’s really athletic and a strong guy,” Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “I think he’s continued to progress. … He’s a hard-working guy and it’s really important to him. He studies and prepares. He’s obviously got a really bright future.”
Although Wanogho didn’t turn into a defensive lineman or a basketball player in college, his experience at both translated well into what he describes as a better fit at offensive tackle.
“Coming from D-line, we already knew he was athletic, so it was just about him adjusting to playing O-line and doing some different stuff,” Auburn offensive guard Mike Horton said. “His athleticism is one of the biggest things that I think helps him. And he’s aggressive, too. We love that.”
Wanogho says he’s been able to maintain his speed from his defensive end days, despite the fact he’s gained 60 pounds in the last two years at Auburn. He moves quicker than expected — which fits perfectly with what his journey has been like to a potential starting job on the Auburn offensive line.
“For me, it’s been like a dream,” Wanogho said. “It just went by so fast. I remember coming in here as a freshman, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was on defense. I had surgery and then I didn’t play, I redshirted my freshman year. … I didn’t expect to be right here today.”