North Dakota State Running Back Sam Ojuri: Strength In Numbers

North Dakota State running back Sam Ojuri is a proven winner, rusher, and teammate. Ojuri, a 6’0″ 212 lb. running back from Barrington, Illinois, has been a key contributor to the Bison’s run at three straight national championships in which he has totaled over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons. With eye popping rushing numbers on the stat sheet, Sam Ojuri is ready to prove he is more than just a guy that can carry the football.

North Dakota State Running Back Sam Ojuri shown scoring a touchdown. (Associated Press)

North Dakota State Running Back Sam Ojuri shown scoring a touchdown. (Associated Press)

Following a successful career at Barrington High School, Ojuri began to receive a good deal of interest from MAC Conference schools. Ojuri picked up offers from Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan, among others, but it wasn’t until then head coach Craig Bohl pressed on Ojuri to consider North Dakota State. After taking a visit and receiving a scholarship offer from the Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse, Ojuri walked away impressed with the program. “I saw a lot of potential there. The program is treated as a big time program, and I realized I had a chance to be apart of something special,” said Ojuri when talking about his journey to North Dakota State.

Ojuri’s impact on the field came quickly in his freshman season. As a freshman in 2009 Ojuri began to see playing time immediately, while the team finished that season 3-8, Ojuri finished his freshman campaign with 144 yards and two touchdowns. Following his freshman season Ojuri received a redshirt for disciplinary reasons. Ojuri took full responsibility for the situation and saw it as a big growing experience, as the game he loved had been taken away from him for a full season. “It was tough but looking back at it, it may have happened for a reason. Instead of coach suspending me for just two or three games, it put me in a situation where I had to step back and realize what I could be apart of,” Ojuri said as he spoke about the incident.

It didn’t take long after his first two years at North Dakota State for the special something Ojuri felt was blossoming to become a reality. As the team lost in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in 2010, Ojuri was ready to return to help his team reach the next level following the suspension. As the suspension kept Ojuri away from the game the previous year, his impact was felt immediately once again helping lead the Bison to the first of three straight national championships. Ojuri finished that championship season with 187 carries, 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2012 the Bison went on for their second straight national championship as Ojuri topped 1,000 yards again with 1,047 yards on 215 carries, while totaling a career high 12 touchdowns. Ojuri finished a three cap as a Bison with his third straight national championship and third season with over 1,000 yards rushing. As he helped lead the team to the three peat, Ojuri totaled 1,398 yards, his highest season total of his career, on 214 carries and ten touchdowns while being named to the second team All-Missouri Valley Conference Team.

As Ojuri has recorded 3,694 yards on his career, don’t tell him he is a running back with “tread on his tires”. The Bison offense is known for a two back feature system through Ojuri’s career, keeping Ojuri and others in good shape to play through the whole season, as North Dakota State has featured two 1,000 yard rushers in each of the past three seasons; Ojuri 2011-’13, John Crockett 2012 &’13, and DJ McNorton in 2011. For a man with well over 3,000 yards on his career, Ojuri’s carries total is most impressive. As his season high was 215 carries during his junior season, Ojuri has just 648 carries on his career in which he averaged just 162 carries per season. “Many guys with the yardage I have produced come away with close to 350,400 carries a year and I have half that. Our system has us splitting carries and I still feel really good,” Ojuri said when asked if was worried about his high production numbers through his career. With two 1,000 yard rushers in each of the past three seasons, Ojuri owes a lot of credit to his offensive line. Led by Offensive Tackle Billy Turner, Ojuri had a front row seat to the work of art his offensive line has produced. “Those guys are nothing short of amazing. I got to see it all in slow motion from back there, and the stats say it all in terms of what they have done,” said Ojuri of his offensive line at North Dakota State.

While Ojuri’s rushing numbers are eye popping and impressive, he feels he brings more to the game than just a rusher. “I look at a guy like Jamaal Charles and see myself with his body type and the way he plays. But I also look at a guy like Matt Forte with the way he is physical taking on blocks, but also catching the ball out of the backfield,” said Ojuri when talking about the attributes he brings to the game in comparison to players. Ojuri has recorded 25 receptions and 214 yards receiving through his career out of the backfield, but is continuing to work on his ability as a pass catcher as he prepares for his Pro Day. As he continues to work on his route running and catching ability, Ojuri prides himself on being a versatile running back, including blocking among the other areas. “I want to prove I am an every down running back. I’ve shown I can run the ball, but every guy can run the ball at the next level,” said Ojuri when speaking of his abilities. As Ojuri has worked under three different running backs coaches during his five year career, professional coaching will pay dividends for Ojuri in developing into an every down running back.

Ojuri has the production and the skill set NFL teams will look for in a running back, but also brings a learning mentality to the game off the field. A cool mannered, outgoing man, Ojuri’s football IQ will attract teams along with his abilities. Having worked under offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, Ojuri picked Vigen’s brain and was able to see what he wanted out of a play from a coaches perspective. “I pride myself in being a student of the game and a quick learner. Taking in information from the meeting room and and executing it on the field is something I am good at,” Ojuri explained of his football IQ. Along with his quick learning persona Ojuri had taken among a leadership role in the North Dakota State locker room. Being a five year player and a high profile running back Ojuri says that, “You want to be an example on and off the field for those young guys. We had some off the field issues on the team early in my career, but we cleaned that up and it really helped pave the way for the national championship seasons.”

Working out with Loren Landow at Sports Performance in Denver, Ojuri is preparing for his March 12th North Dakota State Pro Day and his March 15th regional combine in Chicago. With North Dakota State dominating the FCS level over the past three seasons, the turnout of NFL talent evaluators should be rather large on March 12th as prospects such as Ojuri and Turner showcase their talents. As he is unsure what will come next after the upcoming dates, we do know something for certain with Ojuri; he is a proven winner, leader, and rusher. As he prepares with a chip on his shoulder, Ojuri is confident he can prove he can play at the next level.