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Ebenezer Ekuban reminisces on career, notes ‘phenomenal’ Denver days

Ekuban joined the Cut Traded Fired Retired podcast to discuss the highs and lows of his ten-year career.

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NFL: Denver Broncos Training Camp Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports

Ebenezer Ekuban was a recent guest on the Cut Traded Fired Retired podcast, where he gave insight on his “simple” childhood in Ghana, his journey to loving football, and his career coming to a graceful end after ten good years.

Ekuban was seven when his dad, Ebenezer Ekuban Sr., moved him and his six sisters from Ghana to the United States. He admitted to not growing up with NFL dreams; in fact, football was an acquired taste. He really only joined his high school team in Bladensburg, MD because Ebenezer Sr. urged him to “do more” than just go to school and come home every day.

The 6’4” teenager from Accra would start his high school football career as a triple feature: tight end, defensive end, AND kicker.

Susie Wargin, host of the Cut Traded Fired Retired podcast, asked which of the three phases he most preferred. Ekuban was adamant that it was not special teams.

“No, it definitely was not special teams,” he assured with a chuckle,” I was a straight-ahead kicker, so I kicked with my toes, so you never knew where the ball would go on kickoff.”

Ekuban shared that in his junior year, he was really just getting his feet wet and running where the coach told him to run. “I was just a big kid trying to hit, trying to not get hit,” he explained. It wasn’t until his senior year that he really became a “student” of the game.

“I was really enjoying the game of football,” he recalled, “Learning the little nuances of ‘this is why this happens’ and ‘this is why you have to be here versus there.’ And it really started growing on me. Then I started watching more pro football, watching more of the Redskins [now Commanders] games...and I started becoming more of a student of the game.”

Fast forward to college approaching, and he had offers from five different schools, but at only one of those schools did the coach recruited him in-person with a house visit: University of North Carolina. UNC just felt like home to him, and he knew in his gut that’s where he belonged.

In his sophomore year, as a tight end backup to Freddie Jones, Ekuban dropped a key pass. They still won the game, but another tight end was recruited the following year and he transitioned to defense.

“It was a whole new learning curve, but it was good that I went through that, and that’s when I really started seeing just how different both sides were.”

As a senior at UNC, Ekuban set a school record for 23 tackles for loss — all while earning the distinction of Second-team All-American and All-ACC AND landing on the dean’s list.

In the 1999 draft, the Dallas Cowboys traded their pick up for 20th overall specifically to get Ekuban in the first round, securing him as the first-ever Ghanaian in the National Football League. This is something that Ekuban is proud of, although it didn’t even register with him for a while.

“I just prided myself on whatever I do, I can’t control the outcome, but I can control the present; and that present is every day that you practice, make sure it’s your best practice...or at least TRY to make it your best practice.”

He continued with what he tells his own children: “Control what you can control, and what you can control is your effort. Effort, effort, effort.”

Ekuban’s first few years in the league turned out to be riddled with injuries. That, coupled with new HC Bill Parcells’ 3-4 defensive scheme (which he wasn’t used to), shook up his world a little bit.

“He’s a great coach,” Ekuban insisted, “But either you’re his guy or you’re not his guy.”

When he transitioned to the Browns and saw coaches switching around from team to team, he started really understanding that football was more than just a game; it was a business.

This perspective helped Ekuban understand why he didn’t fit with Bill Parcells but he fit with other coaches: “This is a network...if I’m not your guy, I’m not your guy.”

He shared that it’s important not to take those business decisions personally. By the time his trade from Cleveland to Denver happened, he was able to see it from that business side.

“Denver was phenomenal,” he praised, adding that being a Bronco was his first experience with a winning season in the pros. In 2005 he recorded 41 tackles, four sacks, two passes defended, and a forced fumble.

“When I got to Denver, it was just a total different feeling,” Ekuban described, naming some of the “pros’ pros” on the squad — Trevor Price, Al Wilson, Champ Bailey, Jake Plummer, among others.

He shared how great it was “just to be around that atmosphere,” noting that being surrounded by guys who were also accomplished but wanted to win in the present time was special.

“Mind you, I was getting older too, where, ‘hey these guys, they’re trying to win NOW.’”

2006 was a fantastic year for Ekuban, who had 78 tackles, seven sacks, two passes defended, and a forced fumble in 15 starts. Unfortunately, in 2007 he suffered a pre-season Achilles injury versus the Dallas Cowboys, putting him out for the entire year.

After the end of the 2008 season was the right time for Ekuban’s exit. Josh McDaniels was coming in with a 3-4 scheme (the same that Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells used) and Ekuban was becoming a free agent anyway, so the Oakland Raiders presented him with an attractive two-year deal.

After all, he said, “Oakland was where you went to die” as a player.

There was a major hang-up, though: the Raiders wanted him to sign a contract exception for his herniated disc. Basically, if he hurt his back again, they weren’t going to financially cover him — which sounds oddly similar to a deal that the Denver Broncos trade to make with a player recently (but that’s all I’m going to say about that).

Ultimately, he said, it was his wife who urged him to decline the offer. She reminded him that he’d been “blessed” in his career and that his goal was always to play ten years. That’s exactly what he accomplished.

And it wasn’t his complete exit from football, either. Ekuban would go on to assist football staff at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, CO, and join the Broncos’ player development department. He and his wife have stayed in the Denver area since, largely due to the weather and the people, but also to be around the guys he played with on the Broncos.

Both of Ekuban’s sons are also playing football — one of them at University of Northern Colorado and the other at Regis Jesuit High School — so there are chances of the Ekuban legacy continuing on in the NFL.