Praise Martin-Oguike sits alone with his equipment in the locker room at Temple’s Edberg-Olson Complex.
He’s preparing for the football team’s annual Cherry & White game, strapping on his gear before he takes the field after all this time.
And when his eyes soon snap open, he realizes it was just a dream.
For nearly two years, the redshirt-junior defensive lineman was kept off the field, and away from the university he decided to call home prior to the start of his senior year at Woodbridge High School in New Jersey.
He said he was reduced to dreaming at night about dressing and suiting up for occasions like the spring game, instead of lining up alongside his teammates.
He was banned from team activities, barred from Temple premises and lived with his parents without a job, all aftereffects of a rape charge that was later found to be false.
As an 18-year-old freshman in late May 2012, life as Martin-Oguike knew it changed when a 21-year-old Temple student accused him of rape after he denied her a long-term relationship, according to reports.
He was eventually cleared of the charges in October 2013, and was reinstated both with Temple and its football team in January 2014.
Earlier this semester, the NCAA granted Martin-Oguike’s request for a sixth year of eligibility, now giving him two remaining collegiate seasons to prove his worth on the pass rush.
He’s come a long way. Before his return to the program last year, Martin-Oguike was entrenched in a battle that would cost both him and his family substantial amounts of time and money.
“I was just confused,” Martin-Oguike said. “That was the main thing. I was just confused. I didn’t know why she would say something like that.”
“Everything was spinning,” he added. “It was a mess.”
As the case was set to enter its first day of trial on Oct. 7, 2013, the prosecuting attorney announced the commonwealth would drop all charges, ending the 16-month legal process.
Martin-Oguike’s defense was handled by attorney James Funt, who is currently representing suspended football members Dion Dawkins and Haasan Reddick as they await a second preliminary hearing on April 29 for assault charges. According to a report from The Temple News following Martin-Oguike’s clearance, his defense included text messages exchanged between Martin-Oguike and the complainant that proved a motive to accuse Martin-Oguike of the charges, Funt told The Temple News after the charges dropped.
“It was stressful, just to see my mother crying and stuff,” Martin-Oguike said of the process. “Everything we all went through – we lost a lot of money, our family name, all the articles and stuff that was out there – and you know how bad news travels fast. I was on a high, and then everything was as low as it gets.”
Martin-Oguike was found not responsible regarding the case from a Student Conduct Panel on Jan. 20 of last year, and was then granted readmission to the university after an 18-month suspension.
“I respect some of their policies and I respect that they voted me back in the school. I don’t really have any animosity toward that,” Martin-Oguike said of the university’s decision to suspend him following the initial charges. “I just have a problem with the way it was handled, at first. Just the investigation and charging [me] without any information.”
Though time elapsed since his return to Temple, Martin-Oguike said the wounds have healed, despite a lasting impact.
Lessons he learned the hard way, he said, will always stick.
“It taught me how much of a lie that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ stuff was,” Martin-Oguike said. “People are going to think what they want to think. … It just taught me who to trust. Knowing that you can’t trust everybody, that not everybody’s in your corner.”
“People want what you have, and if they can’t get it, they’ll try to take it from you,” he added. “Know who’s there for you, and put family first. Know who to trust.”
Last April, Martin-Oguike received his chance to suit up for the Cherry & White game, a moment, he said, was “overwhelming.” He trained with the team during summer workouts, took part in training camp, all part of preparing for his first football season since he played seven games for the Owls in 2011.
Once again, the soft-spoken Martin-Oguike was back on the field.
After missing two consecutive Temple seasons, Martin-Oguike paced a reinvigorated Owls defense with his 7.5 sacks, a mark that put him in a three-way tie for second among American Athletic Conference competition. Now, with the NCAA having granted him a sixth year of eligibility, Martin-Oguike will have even more opportunities to make an impact on the field.
“The way he came back, I hope I would have that maturity,” Owls coach Matt Rhule said following a spring practice session on March 31. “He was never bitter when he came back, he never carried a grudge. He came back and went right to work.”
After his extended absence from Division I football, he’s been offered a second chance to pursue the game at its highest level.
As long as he fulfills his longtime dream of breaking into the NFL, he doesn’t care where the opportunity presents itself.
“When I knew I was back at Temple with coach Rhule, who came from the NFL, and [coaches] with NFL experience, they were telling me it was possible to [make the NFL],” Martin-Oguike said. “I always knew what I wanted, so being able to have that opportunity, it just means a lot.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204.9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.