Ogemdi Nwagbuo was preparing for life after football, even during his life of football.
Nwagbuo played six years in the NFL and was with five different teams along the way. Signed by the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State in 2008, the 6-4, 312-pound defensive lineman spent three years with the San Diego Chargers, parts of two years with the Carolina Panthers, a year with the Detroit Lions and his final season with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013.
In his years in the NFL, he played in a total of 36 games, with six starts.
During that same time frame, he also worked at Enterprise Rental Cars in the management program; in the NFL offices in New York in product development; as a marketing intern for J Public Relations in San Diego; in the human resources department as a HR specialist for Qualcomm; and as a career counselor/mentor for athletes at San Diego State University.
“Being an undrafted player, and the position I was in, I felt it was very important to prepare for what I was going to do after football was over," Nwagbuo said. “So every offseason I found an internship to prepare for the day when I was finished playing."
That day came after the end of the 2013 season when he was released by the Bengals. And Nwagbuo put his skills, resume and what he learned at Harvard Business School as part of the NFL’s Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program together and landed a position with Upper Deck Sports, the trading card company.
Working in his hometown of San Diego, Nwagbuo started with Upper Deck in September, just as the NFL season started. He is directly responsible for most major product development for Upper Deck’s basketball division.
He creates player checklists based on a combination of set product requirements and secondary market values, contributes new ideas and concepts for upcoming products, and assists in updating cards to follow league requirements.
“I really like what I’m doing," Nwagbuo said. “I mean there’s no job like playing professional football. And I’d much rather still be playing, but so would 90 percent of everyone out there.
“I learned right away that football was temporary, even if you don’t want to admit it right away. That’s why I prepared, so I could be comfortable with whatever I was going to do when I was finished playing."
Nwagbuo hoped to stay involved in sports in some regard and as it turned out, was given the opportunity to work with what was always his favorite sport.
“I love basketball, always have," he said. “Basketball was always my favorite sport growing up. I played it right up until I got to college, and then football kind of took over. But I’ve stayed a big basketball fan.
“So working for Upper Deck has been great. It keeps me involved in the game. I’m out recruiting players, trying to work within a budget, I really do enjoy it."
The teamwork that comes from playing football has helped Nwagbuo in his new job even if being a former professional football player doesn’t always provide benefits.
“A lot of the people here know I played. I’m not sure if that helps me, or not," Nwagbuo says with a laugh. “Sometimes I’m trying to get a deal done, or get a project finished and people just want to talk football with me. But that’s OK, as long as we get the job done."
While the NFL season starts to make its stretch drive to the playoffs, Nwagbuo admits he misses not being out there, but there are other challenges for him now.
“Next year’s NBA draft class," he says. “We’re going through all of that now, trying to project who we think is going to be successful and who we want to get on our cards."