While dozens of his Auburn teammates jumped in sync with their first-year head coach in a moment of pure revelry, celebrating a stunning 45-41 victory over then-No. 7 Texas A&M on Oct. 19, 2013, Nosa Eguae was making a beeline for the stands.
He had others he needed to celebrate with.
Racing to a far corner of the visiting Kyle Field bleachers, the senior defensive lineman from Arlington, Texas — just 165 miles north of where he stood — climbed past cheering Auburn fans and dismayed Aggies fans and embraced his Nigerian-born parents as tears streamed from his father’s eyes.
“It was a surreal experience, just to be in the stands in College Station and be with my family and soaking in the moment,” Eguae recalled Sunday. “(I was) hugging my mom and my dad, and my dad was crying for joy — it was weird because I’d never seen him so emotional before.
“I had probably like 25 people at the game, so being surrounded by all of them was an amazing experience.”
Of course, that was just the first of many amazing experiences for the hulking 6-foot-3, 285-pound former Auburn defensive lineman.
For Eguae, who put on 15 pounds of pure muscle since leaving the Rose Bowl turf in tears following a 34-31 loss to top-ranked Florida State in the BCS National Championship in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 6, those memories will live on in the hearts and minds of every Auburn fan, coach and player for years to come.
But as he enters this next stage of his career Tuesday, when he is one of 15 former Tigers players to participate in Auburn’s 2014 Pro Day in front of dozens of NFL scouts and talent evaluators, Eguae is ready to embrace the future, one he has dreamed about since he was a husky kid in Texas running around.
“It’ll be big. That’s something you work for your whole life and for me, that’s definitely been a dream,” Eguae said of potentially being drafted in May’s NFL Draft, “(and) the more I’ve gotten closer to this moment it’s become a goal.”
Doing whatever it takes to achieve one’s dreams runs in the family.
Eguae’s father, Dr. Samuel Eguae, moved with his wife, Pat, from Nigeria in 1974 — only a few years removed from the end of a 30-month civil war that devastated the eastern part of the country — to pursue better educational opportunities in the U.S.
“They made some huge sacrifices at the age that I’m at now, which is amazing to think,” said Nosa Eguae, who has two older brothers and one older sister.
Dr. Eguae is an associate professor of biology — with a focus on microbiology — at Paul Quinn College, a historically black college in Dallas.
“What this boy has done, is something we are very, very proud of,” said Dr. Eguae. “Everything is possible, and for that reason we give praise to God. … Nosa has stood in this line and God is with him. … As I’ve always told them, whatever you are make it a good day in your life.”
While his youngest son is striving to make a name for himself in the NFL, Dr. Eguae has long had his name associated with something far smaller, but no less monumental. Dr. Eguae has a strain of bacteria named after him — two actually — after he became the first microbiologist to split two bacterial genes and make a DNA strain that was immune to specific antibiotics in 2007. The strains are called “pSIE1” and “pSIE2” with his initials SIE in each.
Nosa Eguae commemorates that achievement with a tattoo on his back.
“It’s just something that to have that in your family will never go away, that’s something that will last forever,” he said. “Yeah, he’s a smart guy.”
It was in Texas — where football is a right of passage for young boys — that Eguae found and developed his love for the sport by following around his two older brothers.
“I grew up at their practices, I grew up in the locker room with them,” Nosa Eguae said. “It just fascinated me the type of brotherhood, the type of hard work you could put in and them reap the benefits after a hard week of practice on the field.”
Except, despite dreams of being the next Emmitt Smith or Deion Sanders, Eguae was relegated to the defensive line from the fourth grade.
“They put the weight-limit sticker on the back of my helmet and I played D-line, but it ended up working out,” Eguae joked.
It was only natural Eguae was a Dallas Cowboys fan.
Eguae grew up in the heyday of the Cowboys’ run as “America’s Team” when Smith and Sanders teamed with quarterback Troy Aikman and receiver Michael Irvin to lead Dallas to three Super Bowls in four years between the 1992-95 seasons.
“I remember the parades as a very, very little kid and it just the Cowboys, America’s Team,” Eguae said. “It was crazy at old Texas Stadium … just walking in that place, you felt the aura. It’s that same feeling when you walk into Jordan-Hare.”
Eguae came to Auburn in 2009 already in awe of Southeastern Conference football, choosing the Tigers over home-state Texas A&M and Texas Tech.
Five years later, what was once a long, 230-pound lump of unmolded potential has transformed into a 6-foot-3, 285-pound physical specimen eager to branch out and take that next step in his life — the NFL.
“I feel like there’s a lot of similarities. I was young, I was naïve, but I just wanted to work,” Eguae said. “I knew I’d get what I earned, the work I put in is exactly what I’ll be able to take out. I’m not going to be able to write any blank checks. I’m going to have to put in the work and I’m going to cash what I have in my account.
“In essence I feel like that’s (what I’m doing) now.”
It’s why while many draft “experts” have him pegged as a likely undrafted free agent, Eguae remains confident in himself and his abilities, and believes wholeheartedly he’ll have NFL scouts talking after Tuesday’s Pro Day.
“It’s something that as a kid you dream of and the older you get, you realize you have that ability and you try to go out there and try to put that work in,” Eguae said. “And when you finally get to a place where you can say, ‘Yeah, I’ve made it to this level,’ … it’ll be something that I can look back on and say, ‘Wow, the sacrifices, the hard work, it does pay off.’ I’m just a product of many blessings and hard work.”