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July 7, 2013
Wariboko had a weighty challenge
DeSOTO, Texas -- Opposing coaches and parents demanding to see a birth certificate became standard by the time Josh Wariboko was 11 years old. That tends to happen to a 220-pound boy-giant playing peewee football. It's a tradition as old as overbearing fathers yelling at part-time referees.
A parent lugging a bathroom scale out to the field, on the other hand -- that was a new one. And, still, Wariboko, then a massive running back, obliged.
"There used to be a rule that a guy who carried the ball couldn't be over so many pounds, so a parent brought a scale out to practice," Wariboko said. "I passed barely. I was exactly on the weight or maybe a few ounces over. But that didn't stop it. People always complained."
He's come a long way since Pop Warner persecution. He's come a long way since his father forced him to play football. He's come a long way since coaches at Oklahoma City's Casady School pulled him out of the stands at practice and made him go out for the team.
It's tricky to say Wariboko has arrived. He did that long ago. The standout offensive lineman is committed to Oklahoma and claims a pair of other scholarship offers. So as he held up the offensive line MVP trophy following the Rivals250 Underclassmen Challenge presented by Under Armour, what people close to him have long known was confirmed on a large stage.
His performance at the event was simply an exclamation mark. It was an affirmation of what Wariboko is:
"There aren't too many guys his size that can dunk volleyballs," Casady School assistant coach Gary Woods said. "He dunks baseballs and smaller balls like that. He thought he was a basketball player at first. But the first time I ever saw him, he was on kick coverage. He weighed 275 pounds in eighth grade and was the first guy down the field. The poor kid he hit, it was like a car hit him. That's when I realized, 'OK, this guy is different.'"
In Dallas, Wariboko lost just one rep during one-on-one drills and finished most snaps by driving a defensive lineman's head into the ground. He was aggressive. He was angry. He was violent. He was a far cry from the gentle, football-hating kid he once was. It's not easy to hold back laughter when Wariboko says that as a second-grader he thought his future was in gymnastics.
"We had to force him to play football because he didn't like it," Wariboko's father, Benson, said. "He hated the idea of hitting people and hurting people. The coaches had to push him into it."
Benson Wariboko looks nothing like his baby boy. He's as unassuming as his son is imposing. Benson, a retired engineer, stands roughly 5-foot-10 and all of 165 pounds. He's the exception to the family rule. Asked how he managed to breed the man seal-clubbing defensive lineman just a few feet away, he shrugs before coming forward with an explanation.
As he begins to speak, his football-star offspring spikes Marquise Overton, a talented defensive end from Jenks (Okla.) High School, into the turf. "He gets the size from my father and my grandfather," Benson says. "They're both over 300 pounds. I have a cousin that is 325 pounds and a nephew that is close to 375 pounds."
Josh Wariboko's short-lived recruitment never included much mystery. His parents both attended Oklahoma and met during their time on campus. They tell the story every chance they get. Josh has it committed it to memory long ago.
"My dad actually met my mom because he was her tutor at OU," Josh Wariboko said. "She was kind of a party girl before. She liked to party quite a bit, but she started being successful and all that when she met my dad."
And so Josh Wariboko will follow his family's trail through Norman, Okla. The difference is he'll spend time on the school's football field, a place the younger version of him would have certainly avoided.
Hey, everyone has an arc.
"If the young version of me saw this version, he'd be like, 'that's not me out there. That's not me hitting people like that,"' Wariboko . "He'd probably get an elbow."