There’s a theme among walk-ons that’s prevalent at the University of Wisconsin: you never know when you have to step up, but when your number’s called, you have to take advantage of your opportunities.
A roster spot opened up midway through the Wisconsin Badgers’ 2012 fall camp, allowing Dare Ogunbowale to join the football program.
Along his journey, the former walk-on contributed on special teams, agreed to a position change to running back, then emerged as a true rushing and receiving threat when injuries hit the position group in 2015. In his final season, his Badgers teammates voted Ogunbowale as one of two captains in a class of players that became the winningest in school history.
Ogunbowale has accomplished so much, but that doesn’t mean he’s had a chance to reminisce about his time in Madison yet, but for good reason.
“After the Cotton Bowl, I quickly switched my time for training for the [NFL] combine and things like that,” Ogunbowale told B5Q on Thursday, “so I really haven’t gotten the chance to sit back and reflect on the career I had, which was definitely a fun, wild career to document.”
Multiple opportunities now present themselves to Ogunbowale at the next level, a new chapter to be written that could see him be the 19th former Wisconsin walk-on since 1990 to find a home on an active NFL roster.
That started immediately after Wisconsin’s 24-16 Cotton Bowl Classic victory over previously undefeated Western Michigan, and continued this week in preparation for Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. (2 p.m. CST, NFL Network).
Ogunbowale confirmed he was invited to the NFL Combine after the Cotton Bowl win, which will run from March 3-5 in Indianapolis, and admitted he reached out to a group of former Badgers — including former teammates Melvin Gordon and James White — about preparing for the mentally and physically exhausting event.
He took advantage of at least one of his predecessors’ advice and has trained at Bommarito Performance Systems down in Davie, Fla., after finishing up a collegiate career where he played in 49 games, rushed for 1,518 yards on 4.75 yards per attempt, caught 60 passes and reached the end zone 15 times.
“[Former Wisconsin and current New England Patriots running back] James White, he trained down here a couple of years ago,” Ogunbowale said, “and he is definitely one of the main reasons I chose to train down here because of what he said about the staff, and obviously the success he had at the combine, things like that.”
BPS earned a respected reputation throughout the years, training such standout running backs as White, Leveon Bell, Frank Gore, Giovani Bernard, Carlos Hyde, among others. Current Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski also is listed among Bommarito’s alumni to have worked out in their facilities.
“That’s what I’m really down here for is just becoming a better sprinter for the 40 [yard dash],” Ogunbowale said, “and the different position work and drill work that we’re going to do at the Combine.”
Well over a month away from the combine, Ogunbowale’s showcasing his abilities to NFL personnel during the East-West Shrine Game practices. Playing on the West team, he has worked with Indianapolis Colts running back coach Jemal Singleton, who previously coached special teams and running backs at Arkansas under former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema in 2015.
His play on the field caught the attention of those in attendance. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock praised the running back’s skill set on Day 2 of the practices.
“He catches the ball extremely well,” Mayock said on NFL.com, “He stoned a couple of linebackers in the one-on-one catching drills. Where he's going to make a living for himself is on third downs in the NFL. I really enjoyed watching him.”
Emory Hunt noted Ogunbowale’s “footwork is outstanding” and is “another highly explosive back.” Another source told B5Q that there was a mid-round grade for the running back.
Ogunbowale admitted he is trying to soak in as much knowledge from the NFL coaches as possible. He took advantage of his opportunities at Wisconsin, and with the experience gained in the week-long practices and all-star game, appears to be continuing that precedent in his pursuit to play on Sundays.
“I’ve been working on just being a complete back,” Ogunbowale said, when asked what he’s trying to accomplish this past week. “I wouldn’t say I’m trying to improve on anything as much as I’m just trying to showcase some things down here. I think I have a lot of things to bring to the table. It just can be tough to make sure you show all that to the scouts that are watching the practices.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that, and I’ve been hearing some pretty good things about myself and about my performances at these practices. I wouldn’t say there’s something I want to improve on necessarily, but I do want to get better as a complete running back and being able to bring a lot of things to the table to whichever team I hope to land on.”
[Update April 6: Corrected number of walk-ons to make it to the NFL since 1990, not overall. B5Q apologizes for the discrepancy.]