Ex-Cougar Ofahengaue says Mr. Irrelevant is still his story
But play he did.
Despite being nearly 26, Ofahengaue was one of two BYU players drafted in 2001, the other being kicker Owen Pochman, also a seventh-round pick.
Irrelevancy had become his favorite word.
The plane landed at Orange County and the captain thanked the NFL’s 2001 Mr. Irrelevancy over the loudspeakers for flying with them. Passengers cheered the announcement. When Ofahengaue deplaned, Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice was there to greet him.
A limousine took the family — by then up to four kids — to the hotel. Soon extended family members began arriving, many from the Islands, others from Utah and California. Some drove to Newport Beach from Los Angeles and but didn't stay overnight.
By the time the Disneyland trip arrived, his entourage totaled 130.
Ofahengaue’s mother was so grateful she made leis for 100 dignitaries who attended the award ceremony.
The “Irrelevant” designation began in 1976 at the behest of Paul Salata, a businessman, philanthropist, actor and former NFL player. He saw the award as a way to humorously raise funds for charities. Among the winners since then were Cam Quayle (1998) and Tim Toone of Weber State (2010). A few even thrived. Jim Finn (1999) became a starter for the New York Giants and David Vobora (2008) became a starting linebacker in St. Louis.
But largely the title has gone to players who didn’t last. Ofahengaue reported to Arizona but was cut, then released by Jacksonville. He never played a regular-season game.
Though there were feelers from other teams, he had decided it was time to return to his family in Utah. He again worked for an airline and spent a year coordinating recruiting for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. Later he started a foster program that provides placement homes for troubled youth.
He has seven kids, including an LDS missionary, a daughter who is a youth football star, and Moana, a freshman defensive lineman at Utah.
Like his prior life, obstacles still crop up. In 2011 he and ex-Cougar Reno Mahe were named in a case involving gasoline theft at a concrete cutting business in the Salt Lake area. The former players said they were offered free fuel by a company employee, but never told he didn’t have permission. Ofahengaue entered a guilty plea in abeyance to a third-degree felony charge in 2012 and was ordered to pay a $850 in fees and $1,590 in restitution. If he has no further violations of the law, the case will be wiped from his record this year.
On the other hand, his connection to football will be on the books forever. That’s fine by him. Friends still call him by his long-ago moniker. His Facebook profile details his draft selection and his wife drives a BMW with “Mrs. Irrelevant” on the plate frame.
“I’m going to live with that name the rest of my life,” he said.
Maybe the 2013 “Irrelevant” winner will be discouraged, embarrassed or disappointed. Not Ofahengaue. Asked what advice he would give to the final pick this year, he said, “Be grateful. And make the rest of us irrelevant guys proud.”
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