Sept. 5, 2008
Bills' Omon Has Had Plenty To Overcome
- Kristian Dyer, Red Line Editorial
Coach Mel Tjeerdsma remembers it well.
It was late in Northwest Missouri State's second-round game in the Division II playoffs and the Bearcats' coach was pacing the sidelines. His team was in a battle with Chadron State on the road and Tjeerdsma was watching an epic performance by his star running back, Xavier Omon. The team doctor, a fixture with the program for more than three decades, approached the coach as the clock ticked down.
"I remember him coming up to me plainly," Tjeerdsma said. "He told me that he had never seen a performance like this in all his years with the program. He has been with the team more than 30 years, and that's what he said after watching Xavier's performance."
The doctor's prognosis was right. No matter the division or conference, the numbers stick out. Omon toted the ball 37 times en route to 309 yards on the ground. He tallied all three of the Bearcats' touchdowns and his yards on the ground accounted for nearly 60 percent of Northwest Missouri's total offense. He was playing with his heart on his sleeve; just days before, Omon had been snubbed for a prestigious national award.
Omon is used to taking the rough road. Born in San Diego, his family eventually found its way to Beatrice, Neb., where Omon grew to shine on the high school football field. Unlike many of the other top players in the state, he was quiet and reserved and avoided the spotlight. Omon, it turned out, was living a mission.
When he was eight years old, his older brother was killed in an automobile accident. Five years later, another older brother committed suicide. His father was not actively involved in Omon's childhood.
"It used to bother me at games a lot," Omon said about his childhood. "Fathers would always be there, coaching their sons, giving them advice. I used to see them with their sons, and the sons growing up with their dad always there.
"Sometimes I would just stand there and watch."
Omon credits his mother for helping give him opportunities. He promises to be an involved father and a role model for his future children, a meaning and purpose as important to Omon as any ball he has ever carried. The Buffalo Bills running back did not let circumstances get the best of him.
"I am still kind of … not mad, but I don't understand it. I still don't," Omon said about his childhood. "But I had to move on."
And that's exactly what he did. He wasn't highly recruited out of college, but that didn't matter. Omon simply wanted to play football.
By his own admission, Omon had a lot of growing up to do when he got to college. He termed his attitude as "immature" and even called himself a "bit of a loner." Tjeerdsma, who saw something special in him, stepped into his life and took the player under his wing-despite the defensive wall that Omon had put up.
"Definitely with the trauma he has been through, growing up without a father and then you take away his two oldest male figures, you get an idea of what he went through," Tjeerdsma said. "Xavier is a great person and with him, it was never a question of character, it was just maturity."
He did mature. By the time he was a senior in college, Omon was a team captain and the conference's top player. He modestly credits his offensive line for his headline-grabbing nights the Chadron State game. As his senior season concluded and Omon hung up his Bearcats jersey, there was a quiet murmur that a kid from a Division II program had serious potential at the next level.
He was raw, scouts said, but he could play. His numbers were impressive but the talent level of his competition was questioned. At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds as a senior, he had the size to handle his share of carries in the NFL. But was he good enough?
"If he played at a 'D-I school, he would have been a first-day pick. The (Buffalo) Bills grabbed the sleeper of the draft. Xavier will have a long and very productive NFL career," said Brian Martin, who oversaw much of Omon's training.
Martin said that the upside he saw in Omon early last winter was enormous. Because he hadn't been part of a large program in college, the running back had never been exposed to a lot of the speed and power drills that Martin used with him. His hard work and dedication earned him accolades in the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game in February, when Omon was named MVP.
His time in the 40-yard dash was more than solid at the Scouting Combine and his vertical of 38 ½" was enough to move him up many draft boards. Buffalo ended up selecting him in the sixth round. Now a Bill, he is proud to be a professional football player. As with Omon's entire life, he knows the next stage won't be any easier.
"I definitely think I play with a chip on my shoulder," Omon said. "There are the [draft experts] out there, before the draft, not talking about you, and it motivates you. All those guys weren't talking about me. I know I am good enough to be here."