Just a few days after setting the football landscape aflame with his off-the-charts performance at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, safety Obi Melifonwu was back in the gym.
The former UConn star was in his hometown of Grafton, Massachusetts, getting in some evening cardio at the local Anytime Fitness chain. He also greeted some friends of his high school-aged younger brother Ifeatu. After all, it’s not every day you see a 6-foot-4, 225-pound NFL draft prospect on the treadmill next to you at your neighborhood gym.
Melifonwu said he doesn’t get stopped around town these days as much as one would think — and he said, “I really wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t want people to treat me differently.”
But given his sudden fame, Melifonwu never can go full stealth these days.
“I really don’t think I’m famous. Last month has definitely been a whirlwind,” Melifonwu said. “I kind of expected it. I’ve been playing football since the age of 9, and I’ve always wanted to go to the NFL, and I knew if I did everything right, it would work out.”
Yo Murphy, head trainer at ASPI Training, thought his client would achieve an 11-foot-7-inch broad jump and a 43-inch vertical leap, although Murphy later wrote down “45” because of Melifonwu’s unshakable declaration he’d get there. Melifonwu cleared the broad jump with an 11-9, hit 44 in the vertical, and ran a 4.40 40-yard dash that seemed inscrutable for someone with his frame. In a matter of hours, the once lightly recruited high school star was an overnight sensation from coast to coast.
Back home, Melifonwu’s high school coach — the one who first introduced Melifonwu to the only Division I FBS school that would extend a scholarship offer — shrugged at the results.
“His ceiling is unlimited,” said Chris McMahon, Melifonwu’s defensive coordinator at Grafton High, who since has taken over as head coach. “Athletically, obviously, he’s off the charts. And football-wise, he just keeps getting better. Whatever team ends up drafting him is getting a unique guy.”
Melifonwu put up impressive numbers during his 2016 campaign with UConn, earning first team All-AAC honors with a team-leading 118 tackles and four interceptions. Some of his best performances included a two-interception game against Temple, with both picks coming in his own end zone. And he had 24 tackles against Tulane. Now, he’s ranked as the 45th overall prospect in the 2017 NFL draft by ESPN draft expert Todd McShay.
Born in the Islington borough of London to Nigerian-born parents before settling in Massachusetts for most of his life, there’s a disarming side to Melifonwu. For one, he won’t deny his oldest brother Michael’s claim that he bakes one heck of a cookie — “I’ve got a sweet tooth,” he laughs. For another, he credits his low profile to his mother, Tina, a nurse who forged a tight bond with her four sons.
“She’s definitely been my everything,” Melifonwu said. “Everything you see in me was instilled by her — my patience, the humility I have, the relationship I have with Christ. She’s one of the [things] that drives me. I just want to make her proud. She’s sacrificed a lot for our family.”