KANSAS CITY, Mo. — His arrival was highly anticipated and the expectations were exceeded.
When defensive end Charles Omenihu signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in March, it was immediately lauded as a quality signing.
The Chiefs released one of their favorites and a crucial franchise pillar in pass rusher Frank Clark after his resounding playoff performance helped them win Super Bowl LVII and also lost a veteran in Carlos Dunlap who was a key rotational piece on the defensive line.
At 6’5, 280 pounds, Omenihu was seen as a disruptive EDGE defender and despite having 4.5 sacks as a career-high in four seasons, teams knew where his value was.
“I think Charles was a guy that really made a lot of sense for us,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said in April. “He can play a lot of base end on early run downs but I think the thing that really appealed to us was his inside pass rush ability. He’s long, he’s athletic and again, we just feel like pairing him with Chris Jones inside on third down is something that will be really beneficial for us.”
That pairing is exactly what the Chiefs needed to make their high-quality defense even more dangerous.
But the Chiefs knew they wouldn’t have Omenihu at the start of the season. That’s why when they drafted Lee’s Summit native Felix Anudike-Uzomah in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, it made sense.
Omenihu was suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The suspension stems from a domestic violence case in January when he played for the San Francisco 49ers last season.
Police were called to Omenihu’s home in San Jose, and a woman claiming to be his girlfriend said Omenihu “pushed her to the ground during an argument.” There were no visible signs of injuries, and the woman declined medical treatment. Omenihu was booked at the Santa Clara County Jail and shortly released after posting bail.
While Omenihu sat out the games, he was vocal on Twitter live-tweeting Chiefs games and praising his new teammates that he had yet to play a regular season game with.
During his suspension, he trained in his native state of Texas in Austin, a place he called home in college where he played for the Texas Longhorns. He also played extensively throughout the preseason and practiced through all of training camp.
“I just worked as if I was doing the offseason program. I never really took off the gas,” he said.
In the lead-up to Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Omenihu woke up at 6:15 on Sunday morning “charged up” in anticipation.
“I told myself that I gotta turn it down a little bit,” he said. “Coming out and seeing the fans that got me rolling again. And after that, I just was like, ‘All right, like you know, you’ve gotten to this game’ and I play better when I’m very mellow.”
Omenihu entered the game on the second defensive drive and his impact was felt immediately.
In the run game, he was stout and his length was apparent. EDGE rushing is not his strong suit but he was serviceable and helped keep contain on the dangerous Justin Herbert.
And the pairing of Jones and Omenihu rushing the passer was as productive as expected.
Omenihu garnered a sack on the last defensive drive of the first half on a stunt from his end position with Jones moving the guard forward to make way for Omenihu to sack the forward-moving Herbert.
His first sack as a Chief and his first sack since coming back from what he called ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do’.
“Thank god, it’s only God, truly. It was a surreal feeling,” he said.
“I kind of felt like alright, ‘it’s gonna be one of those type of games where you can get active’. Getting the sack [is] probably the happiest moment of my career personally and doing it with a new team, home game, big game.”
Omenihu had one of the Chiefs’ five sacks and led the team with two of their eight quarterback hits.
He also had a pass deflection, tipping a Herbert pass that was intercepted by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed to help the Chiefs keep a 24-17 lead in the third quarter en route to a 31-17 win over the Chargers.
“He went crazy right,” Jones said. “If we continue to get that effort from Charles, we can be a dynamic defensive line.”
The defensive line’s pass rush has already been dynamic with Mike Danna and George Karlaftis having outstanding seasons along with Jones. Adding Omenihu to the mix and combining his talents with Jones will make them a scary duo this season.
“Playing with a guy that is gonna be a Hall of Famer one day and trying to work off of him is just an advantage for me. I mean, it’s gonna be good,” Omenihu said with a laugh.
Omenihu’s faith kept him grounded throughout his suspension. His press conference gave the air of a Southern Baptist preacher as he spoke at the Church of Arrowhead with gratefulness for the moment but a hint of mourning over the time lost after sitting out six games.
He’s only missed two games: his first game in the NFL and another game that he couldn’t remember in the NFL.
“You gotta trust in God’s plans,” Omenihu said about what he learned about himself.
“I never in my life would have imagined ever missing six games, that’s a lot. But in that time and the time of trial, I learned that not everything is going to always go exactly how you planned it but however it goes, you gotta make a way and if you stay in prayer, you will come out a better person.
“I think these six weeks have helped me grow as an individual. And today, after the sack, was just thanking God,” he said.
The proud Nigerian had a host of family and friends who met him in the family and friends area after he spoke to the media. Shortly after, they were singing and rejoicing in their native tongue sharing Omenihu’s good feelings.
It’s just the beginning of Omenihu’s tenure in Kansas City and if Sunday is an indication of the future, he’ll fit in just fine.
“I felt like I was gonna have a good game because—the path I’ve had to walk for six weeks has been the path of trusting and believing. Any obstacle, anything else thrown my way, any kind of.. just evil that might have been coming or any type of negative energy, just keeping a prayer and trust in God it all worked out.
“I’m happy and I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my life to be honest.”