Eagles' Momah kept the faith

Posted: June 05, 2013

HIS NAME is his outlook.

"All things are possible through God's greatness'' is not just the English translation to Ifeanyi Momah's Nigerian first name.

It is the philosophy that has sustained him through the last 21 months of his life.

By now, many of us have heard his story. Bounced between defensive end and receiver at Boston College, his knee torn up amid what appeared to be a breakout game against Northwestern at the start of the 2011 season, his appeal to play a sixth season denied by the NCAA.

Slow to heal from a severely torn ACL, Momah had every reason to believe God's plan for him did not involve a helmet and pads.

"You have no idea,'' he was saying Friday, after the final OTA at the Eagles' NovaCare practice facility. "It's hard to keep the faith when you get hurt like that. The frustration alone. There were times I was back in school not doing much, thinking I was going to give it up.''

Not doing much? Ifeanyi was pursuing a graduate degree, following in the academic footsteps of his three impressive older siblings. His sister, Ifechi, 26, recently graduated Georgetown medical school. His oldest brother, Nathan, 31, is a pharmaceutical physician in Jeffersonville.

Ony, 30, and next in line, had his own fling as an NFL running back before illness and injury sabotaged his dream. So he returned to school to become a physician's assistant, and last week gave the commencement speech at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where he lauded his parents, Nathan and Gloria, for the sacrifice they made emigrating from Nigeria and setting up a household that, with cousins, at one point numbered 11.

Ifeanyi was the second to last through that household, easygoing and easy to please - perhaps to a fault.

"One thing in high school that I noticed he didn't have was the realization of how great he could be,'' Ony said over the phone yesterday.

After he was cut from the Bills, his last NFL team, Ony returned for a while to Greenlawn, N.Y., and helped coach his old high school team and his little brother's current one. Ony also sent about 1,000 letters and emails to colleges touting Ifeanyi, who grew into his current 6-7 frame during that time.

Ony also periodically invited his NFL and college peers, including Saints all-time leading receiver and Hofstra teammate Marques Colston, to work out his brother and their teammates.

"Once I told Ifeanyi [pronounced E-Fon-E] to go stand by Marques so he could realize how much taller he was than even him,'' said Ony.

Colston is listed at 6-4, 225 pounds. Ifeanyi is listed as 6-6, 230. Both men have run the 40-yard dash in under 4.5, which is among the reasons Ifeanyi still has an NFL dream.

Certainly it is not due to the numbers he put up in college. Truth is, there hardly were any. Recruited as an "athlete," bounced between defensive end and receiver under two head coaches, Momah appeared to have finally found his groove that September day against Northwestern. He caught eight passes, almost half his collegiate total to that point.

"Before that game, he was telling me how he was going to dominate everybody on the field,'' Ony said. "How he was going to put together a season to make him a first-round draft pick. And when he got hurt, he was just so devastated.''

The left knee gave out on his seventh catch. His spirit might have too, had Ony just left him alone.

"Ony was the one person in that year behind me telling me not to quit," Ifeanyi said. "He just kept saying I couldn't, that I owed it to myself to at least try to come back. He just wouldn't let me quit.''

From afar, neither would Nathan, who fronted the money for the rehab equipment that Ony bought for their own private training facility. Nathan and his wife were having their first child at about the same time.

"It was hard to do but he still went out of his way," Ony said. "I can tell you, he's strapped for cash right now.''

The rehab was excruciating and seemingly endless. Down to Florida for a few months of rigorous rehab. Back to school. Back to rehab.

"During the whole process of rehabilitation, I witnessed a transformation,'' Ony said. "He wasn't just having fun anymore. He was just mad. He was a different person. I remember talking to my older brother, telling him, 'I've never seen him this serious in my whole life.' That's what I was kind of waiting for.''

By March of this year, that madness had translated into the "mad'' 4.4 40-yard dash and interest from four teams - Steelers, Saints, Browns and the Eagles, who signed the free agent. Ifeanyi knew Chip Kelly because of Kelly's visits to BC, and Eagles assistant Bill McGovern was the Boston College assistant coach who once visited his home to recruit him in high school. But that's not why he's here. He's here because it offers the best chance to live up to his God-inspired name.

"It's about what [Kelly] intends to do with this offense,'' Ifeanyi said. "It's very intriguing. And kind of hard to pass up an opportunity to join an offense that could help you realize your full potential.''

Today on PhillyDailyNews.com : The Eagles have no shortage of wideouts.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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