HOUSTON - Cameron Nwosu honored former Owl O.J. Brigance by switching to his jersey number prior to the 2012 season and wearing it proudly through a season that concluded with a win in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
Last weekend in Baltimore, he found a way to further honor Brigance, whose battle against ALS inspired the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl Championship, by presenting his Armed Forces Bowl jersey to him.
Nwosu and Brian Raines ‘09, another former Owl linebacker who drew comparisons to Brigance during his playing career, flew to Baltimore along with Donald Bowers ‘91, who was a teammate of Brigance’s at Rice, to attend the7th Annual Fiesta 5K for ALS Research on May 4.
Brigance and his wife, Chandra, served as co-chairs for the event which saw over 2,300 participants raise over $410,000 for the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins. The Center is the only international research organization dedicated solely ALS research.
Raines presented a check from money raised during the recent Football Lettermen’s Golf Tournament for the Brigance Brigade, but Nwosu knew he was not coming to Baltimore empty handed.
"Donald Bowers came up with the idea in March to attend the event, and I was excited about the chance to go and support O.J.," Nwosu said. "After we made sure everything was cleared through the NCAA, I couldn’t wait for the weekend to get here."
Nwosu knew immediately that he would present the jersey he wore in the Armed Forces Bowl to Brigance and told Bowers of his plan, but only if it remained a secret. He had the jersey dry cleaned and carried it with him to Baltimore.
"You could see his face light up when I showed it to him and then said it was his," Nwosu recalled. "It was a very special moment for me to do that for him. He means a lot to me and to this University."
Nwosu immediately experienced Brigance’s well-known quick wit .
"He looked at it for a second and saw how small they are and asked me if it really fit me," Nwosu recalled. "It was a funny moment."
Raines also made note of Brigance’s humor.
"I had a wonderful time seeing all the individuals he inspires at the walk, but the best part of the weekend was spending time with O.J. telling jokes with everyone. "
Bowers, Nwosu and Raines were not the only Owls on hand to support Brigance in Baltimore.
They were joined for the event by football lettermen Courtney Cravin ‘92 and Will Hollas ‘90, tennis letterwinner Liz Sulzberger Hollas ‘91, as well as George Hall ‘81 and Kelsie McVea McQuietor ‘91.
"We enjoyed a fantastic weekend at the Fiesta 5K," Brigance said. "I was so blessed to be surrounded by my Rice family. I had a great time connecting with old friends and meeting the next generation of Owls. Cameron is a phenomenal young man and I was touched by his jersey presentation."
Brigance has received countless accolades and honors in his career, including a pair of Super Bowl rings, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Rice and the support from many as he continues his fight against ALS. Through his own efforts with the Brigance Brigade and his support of the research at Robert Packard Center for ALS, he has led the charge to support fellow ALS patients as well as for research on the disease.
During their run to the Super Bowl title in February, the Ravens repeatedly referenced Brigance as a source of inspiration. He won a Super Bowl ring as a player with Baltimore and then joined the front office after retiring. He remains in his role as the Raven’s Senior Director of Player Development and head coach John Harbaugh called Brigance "a shining light in our building".
His impact on the Rice program will remain intact as well as Nwosu takes the field again this fall wearing #57 in his honor.