By Tom Green | AL.com
Prince Tega Wanogho wants to tell you about his pet giraffe. His name is Bobo. He’s about 20 feet tall, and he’s still growing. And before you ask, no, he isn’t actually real, but Wanogho wants you to believe he is. It’s something that Auburn’s preseason first-team All-SEC left tackle leans into, playing off the misconceptions of his native home, Nigeria, and it helps shed some light on what life has been like for him since emigrating to the United State five years ago.
“Bobo is just something I just made up whenever I go here and people ask me about that, because what people think they understand about Africa is that it’s a big safari,” Wanogho said last week at SEC Media Days. “People ask me, ‘Do you have a pet tiger?’ No, no. ‘A pet lion?’ No. No lion or tiger; I’ve got a giraffe, though.”
Added teammate Marlon Davidson: “He probably got a hyena, too.”
Wanogho grew up in Delta State, Nigeria, the son of Prince Phillip U.D. and Princess Onome Wanogho, before he came to the U.S. in 2014 in pursuit of a pro basketball career. He always wanted to be the “next LeBron James,” but that changed in high school, where he became a coveted defensive line prospect during his senior season, earning a four-star rating and being ranked as the No. 114 overall recruit in the 2015 class.
His rising stock on the gridiron, where he had never played before moving to Alabama, paired with a broken leg sustained during his senior season of basketball, led to Wanogho sticking solely with football — a move that has paid dividends for the 6-foot-7, 305-pounder, who is expected to be an early-round selection in next year’s NFL Draft.
I miss walking my giraffe 🦒 😔 https://t.co/27qwxfYXtr— Prince Tega Jnr🇳🇬 (@tega441) July 15, 2019
Still, as a native African adapting to American culture, Wanogho has enjoyed toying with people who don’t completely understand what life was like growing up in Nigeria — those who think it’s just one big safari, with wild animals roaming everywhere and being domesticated as pets.
“It’s not as developed as the United States, but Nigeria is a city,” Wanogho said. “People just don’t know Africa is a whole continent. They just don’t understand, that, like, ‘Is your dad the king of Africa?’ Like, no. Africa is a whole continent. Nigeria is where I’m from. You just see people like that. I don’t blame them.”
Take, for example, the scar on his left arm. Wanogho didn’t go into the true origin of the scar, but he likes to tell the story of his recruitment, when people would ask him about it. “Yeah, I had a tiger scratch me one time,” he said. “And they’re like, ‘What?’ You just see people’s reaction. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, tiger. Nigeria.’ You never know. But then I say, ‘Nah, I’m just messing with you.’”
Wanogho gets it, though.
He understands that Americans aren’t as exposed to African culture, certainly not as immersed as he was to U.S. culture while growing up in Nigeria. Over there, before he emigrated to Alabama, Wanogho watched lots of American movies — he says he always loved Spider-Man — which he said helped educate him about life in the U.S.
That’s not to say he thought all Americans were devilishly good-looking movie stars, but American cinema gave him a certain level of insight into life in Western civilization.
“Seeing that, watching that, you get perspective of American life in your mind,” Wanogho said. “So, you come here and it’s different, but it’s the same because growing up we would joke about Nigeria being like old, ancient TV — black and white. Then you come to the United State, and it’s HD, everything is just so clear.”
Clearer than whether Bobo the giraffe exists.
“Bobo is real, so,” Wanogho said with a smirk. “… I get a kick out of it.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.
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