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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    The Ogunsanyas: Nigerian Royalty to American Success

    The Ogunsanya brothers, PJ (left) and Josh (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    Wrestling was not always in the cards for the Ogunsanya brothers. Thankfully, they found their way into our sport. Because of it, they have had incredible opportunities after high school that any parent would salivate over. PJ (Peter Jr.) Ogunsanya recently graduated from Army West Point. While younger brother, Josh, is studying political science at Columbia University and planning to enter law school in the upcoming years. Growing up with Nigerian backgrounds, and a father who was the first generation born in the United States, some would say PJ and Josh are perfect examples of living “The American Dream.” They made it seem so easy, due to work ethic and determination.

    Growing up outside of Chicago, the brothers started with jiu-jitsu at an early age. This eventually led to wrestling – all while doing baseball, football, and soccer. Other athletic endeavors included gymnastics, boxing, and even track. They seemed to succeed at every sport they tried. It's no surprise they dabbled in almost every sport growing up and turned out to be very successful – no matter the sport. Winning came easy to them, in all aspects of life. They even laughed when they said they had “so many trophies and medals (growing up), we would just dump them in a box.” If you have seen either of them wrestle, athleticism is one of the first characteristics you notice.

    They had bigger dreams when it came to education too. Both excelled in the classroom while winning at whatever sport they were doing at the time. However, with all the achievements, tough decisions had to be made. Between jiu-jitsu and wrestling, they had to choose their path forward in life. With a balancing act of success in athletics and in the classroom, there was simply not enough time in the day to do it all. Ultimately, once high school came around, the brothers decided to focus full-time on wrestling. PJ's desire to also keep playing football was crushed, as he only weighed 94lbs entering high school. This speaks to PJ's ability to do what he loved without fear.

    Looking at high school accomplishments, it is safe to say the correct choice was made. Both brothers found success in all styles of wrestling - folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco. They won numerous state championships between them and earned All-American honors in both styles at Fargo while in high school. This is when the interest from college wrestling coaches started to flood in. PJ received a handful of offers from many various schools, including some from the Big Ten Conference. PJ never had any intentions of attending Army West Point, until his father started nudging him in that direction, little by little. Once PJ took a visit, he fell in love with the school. He loved Coach Ward and the staff; he liked the rigorous academics. He didn't really care that West Point is not a party school. The thing he fell in love with the most was the mindset of the entire campus. “You focus on developing yourself, developing your character, and on top of that, after you graduate, you have a guaranteed job.” He knew it would be tough, but he loved the challenge.

    Josh had different intentions. He wanted to “create his own path” in lieu of (in the words of PJ) “just being PJ's younger brother. He wanted to be Josh.” Josh was dead set on highly sought-after academic schools from the start. Admittedly, he had to thank his older brother, PJ, for “being the guinea pig for the family when it came to college recruiting.” This was brand new to the entire family. His awareness and understanding of PJ's recruiting process tremendously helped him understand what he wanted for his near future. Academics came first for Josh. Many of the Ivy League schools reached out, along with schools like Northwestern and Chicago University.

    Josh gave the current coaching staff much of the props for him choosing to attend Columbia University in New York City. “They really had a vision for me within their program, and really thought I had a role in that overall vision” was how Josh described the feeling. So much so, that Coach Tanelli took a flight from New York to Chicago to do an at-home visit. This made Josh feel comfortable around Coach, believing he was truly invested in him. Once Josh went on his official visit, he fell in love with the school knowing a location like New York City was such a great opportunity for his future career after wrestling.

    Where did PJ and Josh get their drive to be great? The answer is a unique one. Peter Senior (father of PJ and Josh) constantly reminded the boys from a young age to have pride in their last name. Ogunsanya, as previously mentioned, is a Nigerian family name. More specifically, Peter Senior's family came from a local Nigerian royal family before he was born in the U.S. This is that sense of pride both Josh and PJ discussed. Josh then laughed and joked that “some people are turned off (by the royal family connection), especially about the scams and stuff” regarding the infamous fraudulent emails we have most likely come across in our lifetime. The surname is a big deal in parts of Nigeria.

    Even their middle names show homage to their family's Nigerian roots. PJ's middle name is “Tiwalade” and Josh's is “Adesegun.” Coincidentally (or not?) “Ogunsanya” translates to “the crown is with us.” PJ piggy-backed on Josh's point “…we come from royalty, so we should have a high expectation and high regard for each other when it comes to education and anything we do.” In addition to their ancestry, the family also uses their identity with their Christian faith to help motivate. The boys' grandfather was a pastor, so this played a large role in their lives. Using this form of guidance, helped contribute to the success they have too.

    When asked about future plans, PJ was excited to stay involved with the team now that he has graduated. He'll serve as a mentor and help the coaching staff in any way possible. One of the attributes Coach Ward mentioned about PJ was his “infectious positivity” and “relentless positive attitude.” Speaking from a personal experience, PJ had an ankle injury that was preventing him from competing at his highest level at the EIWA Championships. He was still walking around with a smile, excited to just wrestle. That type of attitude is what Coach Ward hopes will be contagious for all his wrestlers during PJ's tenure.

    That's when PJ will head to BOLC's (Basic Officer Leadership Course). In this course of, essentially, basic training for officers he'll go in-depth on his specific branch, which is Air Defense Artillery. During the six-month duration, he'll be taking a deep dive into this branch that specializes in anti-aircraft weapons. After that short stint, he will be training with the U.S. Army WCAP. This World Class Athlete Program allows athletes, who are currently serving, to improve their athletic skills in a variety of Olympic sports. PJ qualifies for this program, as he was the champion at the U23 Team Trials, winning the 72kg Greco bracket. His plan is to train for the 2024 Olympics. I asked him if he plans to wrestle after that, he smiled and said “I'm just going to keep wrestling until I'm done having fun with it, and I'm not done having fun.” I know I speak for a lot of people that we are excited to see him continue wrestling.

    Now, onto Josh's future plans. He is currently a political science major, with a concentration in history. He plans on attending law school after his eligibility is complete. However, another tough decision will need to be made. He has lofty aspirations of staying within the Ivy League for law school to further his education. Unfortunately, his eligibility would be limited to a non-Ivy school if he wishes to use his last year of eligibility (due to the COVID year, and Ivy League eligibility rules). With an individual like Josh, who puts his education at the top level of priorities, this will not be an easy decision. Should he live out his dream of attending an Ivy League law school and forego one last year of competing, or venture outside the Ivies for law school so he can compete one last year? “Honestly, that really sucks because going to law school at an Ivy League school would be a dream come true” was how Josh described this pickle. He will have another year to ponder this decision.

    No matter the choice he makes, Columbia's Head Coach, Zach Tanelli, is confident in Josh's ability to succeed. He stated, “Josh is a full contributor in everything he does; to wrestling, his team, his studies, and his family… He trusts the people around him and is committed to making daily improvements to help him achieve his goals.” For next season's wrestling plans, Josh did mention he would stay at the 165lb weight class, which may be the most competitive weight in the conference – even with some talented wrestlers graduating or moving up in weight. Last season, the EIWA had 8 qualifiers to the NCAA Championships from this weight. Josh earned a spot in the conference finals but fell to the champion, Philip Conigliaro of Harvard. He then went 1-2 at NCAAs, ending his season. I know I am excited to see him improve on that finish, Josh has been leaning towards his main focus being somewhere in the avenue of constitutional law. He is fascinated by American politics and the Constitution. PJ uninterruptedly chimed in with a smile “Fascination is an understatement!” The passion Josh shows towards the subject is refreshing. I feel we could have talked all day about politics, history, and anything else on the subject if the opportunity arose. This hot topic is a tough one to navigate in the current political climate, so we did not dive too deep. We all laughed, as if it was the correct choice. Also, with PJ's apolitical military status, it was best to move on. In the end, it's safe to say Josh will be great at what he does due to his vast understanding of the issues at hand and unique perspectives. We need more people like Josh in this line of work, with clearly thought-out reasoning behind his beliefs.

    Since July 4th is quickly approaching, I thought it would be interesting to get both brothers' perspectives on July 4th and America, in general. With older brother, PJ, being a graduate of West Point and continuing to serve this country, I raised the simple question “What does July 4th mean to you?” PJ mentioned they were a typical family growing up, celebrating July 4th like everyone else; barbecues, picnics, hanging out with friends and family, etc. Since he arrived at West Point, it meant “a little more to me.” He continued, “it really hit home with me my freshman year” as he continued to tell the story of his close family friend and West Point teammate, CJ Morgan, who passed away after an unfortunate summer training accident on June 6th, 2019. He was the lone fatality in an accident that left 21 injured. PJ gave a lot of credit to CJ for helping to convince him Army West Point was the place to be ever since his recruiting visit. Coincidentally, PJ and CJ's fathers were fraternity brothers. It gave PJ “a new perspective on how people are actually giving up their lives.” It is a terrible situation that really hits home when it happens to someone so close to you. “We practically called each other cousins.” He ended by saying “It makes me more proud to do the things I'm doing, and help out others.”

    I posed a slightly different question to Josh, I wanted to know what July 4th meant to him and his family, with PJ serving in the military. “We had a grandfather who served, but he never really talked about it. (PJ's service) really opened my eyes to the amount of sacrifice and dedication to upholding our nation.” He continued, “The lack of free time, the lack of ability to visit his family, we see the sacrifice it takes to make the American Dream a reality. It is something very impressive.”

    I was curious to see his thoughts on the holiday, as a person who loves history. His view on it was exactly what I was looking for, “(From a historical perspective), America has the second oldest constitution in the world.” He raised some great points about how almost crazy it was for these men to make this commitment, and sign this Declaration of Independence, knowing damn well that if they lost the war, they'd be tried for treason and put to death immediately. “To believe in their ideas so much, that you are willing to sacrifice your life. That is something that is hard to wrap my head around – to be able to stand for values so strongly that I am willing to put my life on the line.” Josh called this aspect inspiring. The thing that stuck out to me was Josh's explanation of the term “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and how it is a moral foundation of what the nation was originally designed to achieve.

    Before our conversation, I knew PJ and Josh had different personalities. After our half-hour talk, my expectations were not changed too much. PJ seems to be the more outgoing one with a huge smile on his face. Being the older brother, he was never afraid to try something new and lead the way. When he did, he put his full effort forward. One can see why Army is the perfect place for him; he gets to lead by example and have confidence in himself to make others around him better in the process. Josh is more laid back. He seems to be more analytical with his decision-making while trying to stay out of the limelight. This makes his future career as a lawyer very practical as he will need to analyze various aspects of law and strategize a different approach that may not have been done before.

    According to their respective coaches, it is an honor to have an Ogunsanya on their roster. Personally, it was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to watch both young men wrestle in the EIWA, and even more so to be able to pick their brains and have a nice discussion with them. I am in agreeance with Coach Ward and Coach Tanelli that these guys will be successful once they decide to move on from the sport of wrestling.

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