Q&A: Iowa Cheerleader Onazi ‘Oz’ Agbese
During the early moments of last Tuesday’s Michigan State-Iowa game, ESPN viewers were treated to the sight of a male Hawkeyes cheerleader going absolutely nuts when Iowa broke a 2-minute, 20-second scoring drought to start the game.
That cheerleader is Onazi “Oz” Agbese, a fifth-year senior whose passion and energy has become a common occurrence at Hawkeyes sporting events since he joined the cheer squad during the 2010-2011 academic year. He’s a bit of a cult hero in Iowa City, complete with a Facebook fan page that champions his finest qualities as a person and a cheerleader.
Lost Lettermen managing editor Chris Mahr spoke to Agbese about how he wound up at Iowa, what made him join the cheerleading team, what it’s been like to “go viral” and how it’s shaped the path he wants to travel after graduation.
Lost Lettermen: What made you want to go to Iowa?
Onazi “Oz” Agbese: I grew up in Waterloo, which is about 90 miles north of Iowa City. I got a really good academic scholarship to Iowa, and when I went on a football gameday visit during the fall of my senior year in 2008, I thought, “This is the place for me.”
LL: How did you wind up joining the cheerleading team?
OA: On my dorm room floor freshman year, there was a guy who was getting guys to try out for the team the following year. There were a lot of seniors on the team when I was a freshman, so there weren’t a lot of guys coming back. Initially I decided not to do it, but my friends did. The next year I went to an open gym, where they got guys to do tumbles and stunts to see if you liked it. I really enjoyed it, plus I was comfortable going in knowing people (on the team).
LL: What do they look for in male cheerleaders?
OA: They want guys who did sports in high school who aren’t D-I athletes but want to stay in shape (Agbese was a football player, wrestler and competitive weightlifter in Waterloo). One way they ask guys to join is, “Do you like lifting weights? Do you like girls? Well, how would you like to lift girls?”
LL: At what point do you recall those in the Iowa community starting to sit up and take notice of who you were?
OA: Probably a few months after starting my sophomore year. Every year except this last I’ve been the only African American on the team, which made me more recognizable. People who I never met before knew my name because they knew me as the “black cheerleader at Iowa” or the “jacked black cheerleader at Iowa.”
LL: What has been the collective reaction to your over-the-top intensity?
OA: It’s all positive things, like “You always get me hyped up” or “It’s good having you around.” It’s gotten to the point where, by my second year (on the team), people were asking me, “Haven’t you graduated? It’s like you’ve been around for years.”
LL: How much of your in-game intensity is natural for you and how much of it do you play up for your role as cheerleader?
OA: I get that energy from within and just want to put it out there. It’s a show, it’s fun and it’s part of my job. I love doing it.
LL: The shot of you during the Michigan State game was the first time your profile was raised to a national level. How did your reaction come about?
OA: I normally react in a very big way. What was big about the Michigan State game is that every year at the Big Ten tournament since I’ve been on the squad, Michigan State has knocked us out. I was really excited for that game, even at that very first basket. You’re supposed to be on the whole entire time, and it was a long buildup of excitement since we hadn’t scored yet.
LL: According to your Twitter profile, you’re “working every day to be a collegiate strength coach.” How did that career goal come about?
OA: I’ve always been interested in athletics and coaching people but was told that I wouldn’t make any money. I started out as a chemistry major so that I could go work for the local John Deere company in Waterloo after graduating.
The summer after my sophomore year, I was talking to my high school wrestling coach, and he asked me, “What do you like to do? Not what you think is going to make you money, what do you like to do?” I realized the time I enjoy most is either cheering or weightlifting, and he told me I should be a strength and conditioning coach. So I switched majors to exercise science.
LL: What’s the next step in realizing that goal?
OA: In order to be a collegiate strength coach, you need a master’s degree and/or be a graduate assistant to get coaching experience. Since there are so many people that want that job, it’s all about who you know so you can get your foot in the door. It’s been great having those connections from high school (Agbese’s weightlifting coach was also an assistant strength coach at Northern Iowa) and meeting the strength coaches at Iowa.
LL: Would you want to stay in Iowa as you pursue this next step?
OA: I really want to get my master’s degree from the University of Delaware. They have a really big exercise science program out there and really great coaches. It’d be nice to get out of Iowa, spread my wings and get away from home a little bit. I’ll hear from them once I get my GRE scores back this month.
LL: How would you like things to play out the rest of your senior year and how would you like to best be remembered?
OA: The ideal way for it to end would be to make the men’s NCAA tournament. I’ve cheered at three women’s tournaments but never a men’s tournament. It’d be great if years from now people could say, “Do you remember Oz?” or “That guy has energy like Oz.”
I bring the energy because it’s college. After it’s over, everyone looks at you like you’re weird if you’re on your feet screaming and jumping.