DURHAM — Just before he left for summer break, Duke's Vince Oghobaase bench-pressed 440 pounds, easily a personal-best for the 6-foot-6, 300-pound defensive tackle.
That may be a featherweight feat compared to the burden of leading the Blue Devils' defense in his fifth and final year in the football program.
An honorable mention All-ACC player last year, Oghobaase has no illusions about his role this upcoming season.
"I'm going to be one of the guys leading the team this year," he said. "This last year needs to be my biggest campaign thus far."
The on-field production has long been expected from the Houston native. Ranked the seventh-best defensive tackle out of high school by Scout.com, Oghobaase stunned coaches and recruiters when he chose Duke over established, big-name schools such as Oklahoma and Miami.
Eager to get on the field early, Oghobaase graduated from high school in December 2004 and enrolled at Duke the following month. Five days into spring practice, however, he tore ligaments in his right knee, ending his 2005 campaign and forcing him to take a medical redshirt.
Since recovering, Oghobaase has terrorized opposing offensive lines, racking up 128 tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Fifty-one of those tackles and six of those sacks came this past season, coach David Cutcliffe's first at Duke.
The six sacks last season were the second-best for ACC defensive tackles, behind only NFL first-round pick B.J. Raji of Boston College (7.5).
Oghobaase said he has yet to reach his peak, though, a notion the coaching staff echoed.
"He has unlimited potential," said Marion Hobby, Duke's co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. "He's a hard worker, he's got all the natural abilities and he has the physical size."
Hobby, who coached New Orleans Saints star defensive end Will Smith, said it was difficult to think of an NFL player against whom to measure Oghobaase.
But the physical presence alone wasn't enough for Hobby and the coaching staff. Hobby said once Oghobaase decided to return for his fifth year, he told him he didn't just want a better defensive lineman -- he wanted a better team leader.
To help him and the other seniors do that, the team has set up senior-only leadership training sessions every Wednesday. Team chaplain James Mitchell leads the events, entitled Blue Vision, which consist of the all the seniors learning life lessons and ways to become better leaders on and off the field.
Cutcliffe and Mitchell came up with the ideas together.
Oghobaase said the biggest thing he has learned is to treat tasks as an opportunity to shine, not a burden.
"You can't go into anything going, 'Oh, man, we have to do this again,' " he said. "We've got to take it as a chance to show what you can do when you're faced with adversity."
Mitchell, who was added to the team in January, said Oghobaase has needed only enhancement since he is a natural-born leader.
For a while, it appeared Oghobaase might not return to Duke. When his junior campaign concluded, he submitted his name to the NFL draft and said he "was definitely looking to go pro."
After receiving feedback from the NFL Draft advisory board, however, Oghobaase decided it was in his best interests to return for one more year. He did not say where exactly the board had projected him in the draft but said he did not receive intricate feedback, only an overall grade.
In the statement announcing his return Dec. 22, Oghobaase said he wanted to achieve first-team All-ACC, All-American and ACC defensive player of the year honors. Six months later, though, his tone and his words reflected his growth as a leader, as he said he has no specific goals right now.
"You have to think about what can I do now to have success later," he said. "Because there's an accumulation of tough things that will make us into who we need to be."
Suddenly, lifting 440 pounds doesn't seem so tough. But for Oghobaase, the difficult times are hardly a burden.
After all, it's an opportunity to reach the full potential that he has been striving for the past three years -- to lead his defense.
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