This past Thursday, March 16, former Bisons football star and University of Manitoba
alumnus David Onyemata signed a three-year US$35 million contract with the National
Football League’s (NFL) Atlanta Falcons.
The contract guarantees the 30-year-old former environmental science major at least
Famously, Onyemata became the first University of Manitoba football player to be drafted
into the NFL in 2016 when he was selected 120th overall by the New Orleans Saints.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Onyemata’s journey to NFL glory was anything but expected. Instead of
playing gridiron football at an early age, he grew up playing another kind of football, what us
North Americans call soccer.
Onyemata had never played North American football until he arrived on campus at the U of M in 2012.
The first time Onyemata stepped foot on the gridiron, the Bisons’ coaching staff were
greatly surprised at the nimbleness and fluidity of movement the six-foot-four, 300-pound
The coaching staff put him on the defensive line, and the rest is history.
During his tenure with the herd — from 2013 to 2015 — Onyemata racked up 166 tackles,
nine and a half quarterback sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 37 career
He was also named to two Canada West conference all-star teams and one Canadian
Interuniversity Sport all-Canadian team.
Most prestigious of all was Onyemata’s 2015 win of the J. P. Metras trophy, awarded to
the best lineman in Canadian collegiate football.
Onyemata began his NFL Career in 2016 with the New Orleans Saints, appearing in all 16
regular season games. He would go on to play for the Saints for six more years before
signing with the Saints’ NFC South division rival Atlanta Falcons as
a free agent this off-season.
Onyemata’s most prolific NFL season was the 2020-21 campaign, in which the former U of
M defensive stalwart accumulated 44 total tackles, six and a half sacks and one interception
in 15 regular season games. He also added five tackles in two post-season games that year,
as his Saints bowed out in the Divisional Round, losing to the eventual 2021 Super Bowl
champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Onyemata’s decision to sign with the Atlanta Falcons seems largely predicated on his
desire to reunite with former New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, who
was recently hired by the Falcons this January.
Though Onyemata possessed a slew of natural talent, his incredible journey to the NFL
and his solid production is nothing but a testament to the quality of the Bisons’ football
program, for it developed him.