Sunday, December 10, 2023

Two ODU players drafted by the NFL; 5 others sign

Oshane Ximines and friends celebrate. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of ODU)
Oshane Ximines and friends celebrate. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of ODU)

Oshane Ximines watched his mother, Dane McDonald, work to exhaustion for four years, changing bedpans at a nursing home while attending community college.

Between work and school, she came home and quickly made dinner. She often stayed up studying until the birds began chirping. She finally received her nursing degree in Ahoskie, North Carolina, and then moved her kids into a spacious home.

“All my drive, my desire to get better, that all comes from my mom,” Ximines said.

So it was fitting that when the Old Dominion University defensive end was selected by the New York Giants in the third round of the NFL draft Friday night, his mom was by his side. So were his dad, Delroy, his three sisters, half a dozen other family members, friends and nearly a dozen former ODU teammates.

Spread across the living room and spilling into the kitchen of McDonald’s suburban townhouse, the crowd of 35 or so people watched tensely as the draft dragged into its fourth hour. Ximines was visibly distressed. There were only half a dozen players to go in the third round.

But then the room exploded with noise when Ximines received a call. Everyone knew that meant he was about to get picked.

He became the first ODU player ever to be drafted by the NFL.

“Oh my gosh, I made history,” he said as he took the phone outside to talk with Giants officials. He returned minutes later, and everyone raised glasses in a toast and cell phones to capture the moment.

Ximines was so flummoxed by the call that he didn’t bother to ask the names of the people he spoke to.

“The guy said, ‘This is the New York Giants calling, and we’re asking you to be a part of our program,'” Ximines said. “That’s all I needed to hear. I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, I want to be a part of your program.'”

That alone would have been one of the biggest moments in ODU football history. But it was just a teaser for what remained.

On Saturday, wide receiver Travis Fulgham was taken in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions.

Then came a flurry of signings.

Three players signed as free agents: Jonathan Duhart, a wide receiver, was signed by the Lions. Defensive end Tim Ward, who blew out his knee in November, was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs, and Jeremy Cox, a running back who missed much of the season with injuries, signed with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Two more signed tryout contracts: Isaiah Harper, the return specialist and wide receiver from Chesapeake, with the other L.A. team, the Rams, and defensive end Daniel Appouh with the Oakland Raiders.

In one weekend, seven ODU players signed with NFL teams. It was a milestone for Old Dominion. Sportscasters on ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network showed highlights of ODU’s players and marveled at how a 10-year program could produce so much talent.

Trey Wingo, the NFL Network analyst, tweeted this to his one million followers: “We’ve now had two Old Dominion players drafted. Still waiting for players from Tennessee, UCLA, Nebraska and Va Tech.”

ODU has had so many football milestones. No. 1 has to be ODU’s 49-35 upset of Virginia Tech at Foreman Field last season, a game the Hokies were favored to win by 35 points.

No. 2? Depends on your point of view. There was the victory over Chowan in the school’s first game, winning a CAA title on 2012, the first FBS victory over Idaho in 2013, an upset of Rice in 2014 in the school’s first Conference USA game and the Bahamas Bowl victory in 2016.

Or how about Taylor Heinicke racking up a Division I record 790 yards of total offense against New Hampshire and later winning the Walter Payton Award, all in 2012? And, of course, looking forward, the soon-to-be opening of the new 22,480-seat S.B. Ballard Stadium on Aug. 31 against Norfolk State.

The weekend’s draft success “is definitely among the top five,” Wilder said. And the stats tell the story.

Virginia Tech had no players drafted. Three signed as free agents. Virginia had two players drafted and two sign as free agents. So ODU was king of the hill in Virginia during draft weekend.

Beyond Virginia, nine Power 5 schools, meaning those among the five most powerful leagues in the country, did not have any players drafted. They included three ACC schools.

And it was the most watched NFL draft ever, with an average of 6.1 million people watching through three days on TV.

Wilder said the draft bonanza will boost recruiting.

“There was worldwide publicity for our program,” Wilder said. “We’ve heard a lot from the kids we’re recruiting, from the guys we’ve offered to the guys we’re talking to.

“It was also impactful for our present players. They see a guy like Oshane Ximines, who wasn’t highly recruited, come into our program, develop in our strength and conditioning program (to 255 pounds), and he’s a third-round pick.

“Then they see Travis Fulgham, who wasn’t recruited and was a walk-on, achieve his dream. It makes this all tangible for them.”

Wilder added: “This proves what we’ve said all along, that you don’t have to be a five-star player for Old Dominion to develop you into an NFL player.”

Ximines (pronounced ZIM-in-ess) doubted the announcer would get his name right. But he never got to hear it. A moment before his name was announced, screams went out from his sisters, and the place exploded into a sea of joy, with hugs, high-fives and kisses all around.

Ximines has roots in New York. His mother is a native, and his father is a long-time resident of the Bronx.

“We’re going home,” his mother said, as tears trickled down her cheeks. “This is surreal.”

She hugged her son for more than a minute. Ximines said over and over, “I love you, Mom.”

Before the announcement, a festive, party-like atmosphere took hold in his mother’s house as she ladled out ribs, cabbage with veggies, fried rice and plantains.

When the draft started, the tone became subdued. Every time a player was drafted, things got quiet.

Ximines’ head was buried in his phone.

I looked over his shoulder to see what had him so captivated, and he was playing a video game.

“I guess that’s his way of keeping calm,” said Delroy Ximines.

His father busied himself passing out bottles of water and soft drinks, and then paced from the living room back to the kitchen.

“I think I’m more nervous than Oshane,” he said. “He’s earned this. He’s worked so hard.”

Then came the call that sent everyone in the apartment into bedlam.

“The best part of tonight is that I got to celebrate with the people who are close to me,” Ximines said.

“This was such a great night. I’ll never forget it.

“All the hard work paid off. I’m just so happy that it happened.”

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