EXONERATED - A Temple player's trail through legal system by Mike Kern
PRAISE MARTIN-Oguike's world could have ended. Easily. As it was, his dreams got put on hold for a year-and-a-half. And there was nothing he could do about it other than fight for justice, while he watched and waited as the judicial process took its course.
"I was very confused at the time," he said. "Everything happened so fast. I had reached a pretty good time in my life. And then, all the work kind of went down the drain.
"It was very frustrating. You can't imagine."
In late May 2012, after he'd just completed his freshman year at Temple, where he'd played in three games as a linebacker for a team that went 9-4 and won a bowl game, Martin-Oguike was arrested on charges of forcible rape, false imprisonment and related offenses stemming from a dorm-room incident. He maintained that the sexual activity had been consenual. But it took until October 2013 to clear his name. It's a moment that will remain etched in his memory.
"Right before the jury selection, the [district attorney] threw [the charges] out," said Martin-Oguike, who was dismissed from the university. "She said she looked at everything and it didn't make sense to her. So she had no reason to continue the case.
"My first thought was, 'I hope it's not a joke.' I didn't want anyone playing me. When I saw that she was serious, I almost fainted. I got very emotional."
Three months later, on Martin Luther King Day, a Temple board of inquiry voted him a full exoneration. Not long after that he asked coach Matt Rhule if he could return to the team. And now the junior, who is petitioning the NCAA for another season of eligibility, is starting for the Owls. Only he's moved to defensive end, a position he'd never played before.
"We were glad to have him back," said Rhule, whose 1-1 team is off this week, following a loss to Navy, before hosting FCS Delaware State (0-2) on Sept. 20. "I knew he had a lot of talent. He'd just gotten bigger, in his time away. And with his skill set, we decided he'd be better on the line.
"He's a very soft-spoken young man, just a good guy to have around. He's not one of those guys you notice, until he gets on the field. I just think he was happy to have a chance to be one of us again."
Even though he professed his innocence, Martin-Oguike knew the story didn't have to turn out this way.
"You think a lot of different things," he said. "I heard one story about a guy, I think he went to USC, who ended up getting in trouble. Then, years later the girl confessed. But he'd already gone to jail. I heard a lot of stuff like that. You try to ignore it, but you do think, 'Why me?'
"At first, you have to explain it to people. The people that know me, I didn't have to explain. They already knew. I thought about not coming back. But where else was I going to go? I'd felt comfortable here. A lot of people don't get the chance to come back. I could be at a [school] that's not as good as Temple. So it's really a blessing."
Martin-Oguike (pronounced OH-gwee-kay) is a native of Nigeria who since the age of 10 has been living in Sewaren, N.J. His father is a pastor, his mother a published poet. His older sister is named Precious, his younger brothers Percy and Pleasant. Rhule says it became evident in the recruiting process that he'd been raised the proper way.
"It's a testament to his family that when he came back, he didn't come back with any bitterness, or any sense of entitlement, or with any anger or really anything except, 'I'm back in school and this is what I wanted to do,' " Rhule said. "You get to meet a lot of really great people when you're doing this. But his father was one of those who stuck out. I liked my time with them."
And because of the support Martin-Oguike received at home, he never had to worry about dealing with his ordeal on his own.
"My parents did a good job of keeping me sane," he said. "They went out of their way, whether it was driving me to Philadelphia to see the lawyer or just being there to talk. They spent a lot of money. But they were there the whole time. It was good just being home. But it was hard on all of us.
"I just had to go back to basics, and be patient. I learned how to be very patient. I tried to continue my studies [by taking classes at a local community college], I found some hobbies, killed time. The worst part was social media, from people who didn't know me. I got a lot of harassment on Twitter. It was everywhere. And it's never taken off. It kind of stuck to you. My goal now is to do so much good it will take care of that.
"I actually dreamed about being back here, the whole time. In the spring, when I was actually playing again, it felt like it had come true. I know football, so that helped. No matter what, I just had to keep focusing on the positive. The negativity will always be there. I just have to work around it."
Fortunately, he emerged as an even more mature individual. So maybe it makes perfect sense that he's a criminology major who wants to go to law school.
"I know the system," Martin-Oguike said. "That can probably help me out in a lot of ways. I've learned so much, so many different things. More than I ever learned before. It's just weird, how everything happened. I guess it happens for a reason. I get my encouragement from sharing the word [of God], just knowing there's bigger plans for me than what happened. I see it as I won't get more than I can handle.
"I know now that you have to be careful who you trust. It could happen to anybody. As long as you have your integrity . . . Some people still don't understand. They don't know the facts. They still look at me that way. But that's their business.
"Things have slowed down. I'm trying to live each day to the fullest. Nothing is given you. Nothing is like guaranteed in life. It can always get taken away from you. I see that now."
That's what happens, when your crossroads is finally in the past tense.
"He's never looked back," Rhule said. "Like everyone else, they all have different paths and back stories. The only thing we've ever talked about was what was ahead.
"He's got a good work ethic. I think he's going to end up being a really good player for us. I like his future."
Or simply the reality that he even has one again.