He's an Owl again, and grateful for it

Praise Martin-Oguike (right), a defensive lineman, plays in a Temple intrasquad scrimmage. Expelled in 2012, he was cleared to return in January.
Praise Martin-Oguike (right), a defensive lineman, plays in a Temple intrasquad scrimmage. Expelled in 2012, he was cleared to return in January. (RON TARVER / Staff)

Praise Martin-Oguike puts a harrowing ordeal behind him.

Posted: August 18, 2014

It was all too much for Praise Martin-Oguike to maintain his composure as he reached the finish line of the most hellish two-year stretch of his young life. So Martin-Oguike, the quintessential strong-but-silent type, was blubbering.

Like a baby.

It was Jan. 20, the federal holiday that honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Martin-Oguike was addressing Temple's five-member board of inquiry. Three months earlier, charges that he had wrapped the same powerful hands he used to slam football players to the ground around the neck of his 21-year-old accuser and raped her had been dismissed.

"Finally, all of his emotions had been unplugged and they were able to drain out like water from a sink," James Funt, Martin-Oguike's lawyer, said of his testimony that day to the board. "His name, and more importantly to him his family's name, had been dragged through the mud. He was setting all of those things free."

The Temple board voted full exoneration. For the son of Dr. Martin Oguike, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Woodbridge, N.J., and Ngozi Martin-Oguike, a published poet, it marked an end and a beginning.

After the charges were lodged on June 4, 2012, Martin-Oguike was expelled from Temple and stripped of his athletic scholarship. Now he is back at school and back on the team. And on Aug. 28, he very likely will be in the starting lineup at defensive end when the Owls open the season at Vanderbilt.

It is a long way from wearing handcuffs.

"It's great," Martin-Oguike, who will turn 21 at the end of the month, said after a practice this past week. "It's like a weight that you can't imagine was lifted off my shoulders. It's left me wiser. I lost two years of my life that I will never get back.

"I'm happy to get my life back and get the chance to pursue my goals. I almost lost that. I use that now to motivate me. When I get tired and feel like I might want to give up, I know that this was almost taken away from me - and that I almost had no say in the matter."

He said he spent many sleepless nights and some days "confused and not knowing what to expect next" before the charges were dismissed.

Funt watched Martin-Oguike ride an emotional roller coaster, one that went from disbelief at the accusations to despondency as it appeared that the case would eventually go to court and a conviction could land him in jail for years.

"I was wondering why this had to happen to me," he said.

He said that only his faith kept him optimistic that the storm would pass, but even that was at times tested. He enrolled in community college but said it was difficult to focus on school with a trial pending.

Believing that he would one day play college football somewhere, he continued to work out, mostly lifting weights and playing basketball. As a result, the 6-foot-2 Martin-Oguike has gone from a listed weight of 220 as a freshman to 250 pounds.

Funt never believed the case against his client was legitimate. And he was proved right when the prosecution threw the case out because of a lack of evidence the day it was scheduled to go to trial.

"In any case where we withdraw charges, we do so due to the lack of evidence sufficient to prove the guilt of the alleged offender," Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, said via e-mail Friday.

Temple coach Matt Rhule, formerly an assistant coach here before leaving in 2012 to work as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants, remembered Martin-Oguike as an explosive player.

After Martin-Oguike's two-year hiatus, however, Rhule was unsure how football-ready the player would be.

"I was actually surprised how ready he was," Rhule said. "But he got into the offseason conditioning program and dedicated himself to it. He's a starter right now, but there are some guys right on his tail. I expect him to have a really, really good year for us."

Martin-Oguike may try to get some of his life back. The redshirt junior is considering petitioning the NCAA to grant him another year of eligibility.

"I love playing football," he said. "But it can be taken away from you just like that. Right now I'm just focused on this season and being a college student again. I wasn't sure I would ever be here again."


jmitchell@philly.com

@JmitchInquirer

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