When you're on a roll, the world is your playground. You can walk into Lawry's Prime Rib in Beverly Hills, as prized NFL prospect Jonathan Ogden did on a recent evening, wearing an outfit that wouldn't get you through the servants' entrance at Deion Sanders's house, let alone into one of L.A.'s most eminent eateries. You can fondle the plastic comb sticking out of your unfashionably robust Afro, tug on the drawstrings of your XXXL UCLA track sweatshirt, request a table for five in a packed dining room and be seated immediately. When you are 6'8", 318 pounds and on the verge of becoming a multimillionaire, the fashion police are about as threatening as meter maids.
So Ogden and his four companions get the royal treatment at Lawry's. They wolf down prime rib and creamed corn and Yorkshire pudding and poke fun at the 21-year-old athletic wonder in baggy shorts who is the reason they're breaking bread. "Big O is the world's thriftiest man," says Ogden's friend Courtney Simpson. "Even when he gets the big money, he'll still be buying those loaves of 99-cent bread."
Ogden will soon have more bread—figuratively—than a skinflint like him should ever need. Expected to be one of the top four picks in this Saturday's and Sunday's NFL draft, Ogden, who starred at left tackle for UCLA, is already being talked up as the league's next outstanding offensive lineman, a player with even more potential than last year's rookie wonder, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Tony Boselli, who went second in the draft. Bobb McKittrick, the San Francisco 49ers' longtime offensive-line coach, calls Ogden the No. 1 offensive-line prospect ever. "He's the best I've seen," McKittrick says. "This guy runs faster, jumps higher and bench-presses more than Boselli. Everything you can measure athletically, he's a little bit better."
Right now everything seems within Ogden's reach. In the past few months he has received the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman, wowed talent evaluators at the NFL's scouting combine and won the shot put title at the NCAA's indoor championships, thereby qualifying for the Olympic track and field trials to be held June 14-23. Most indicative of the roll he is on, however, were two recent trips to Las Vegas, one to attend the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno bout on March 16, the other a week later to follow up his maiden performance at the blackjack tables. Ogden won $3,000 on his first visit and another $700 on his second. He's lucky as well as good, though he clearly isn't ready for Prime Time.
"It seemed like every famous person in the world was in Vegas for the fight, and I was sort of looking around in awe," Ogden says. "Vegas is a moneymaking machine. It was cool hanging out with some of the NFL players, but Deion was way out of my league. The way he dresses is incredible. Don't get me wrong. I'll buy some nice suits. But I'm not gonna get a suit just because it's the most expensive thing around. Just because you've got money is no reason to stop bargain hunting."
Such sentiments may sound standard to the working stiffs of the world, but the modern can't-miss professional athlete, in many cases, seems intent on following the flashy model set forth by Sanders, the Dallas Cowboys' conspicuous-consumer cornerback. That Ogden has no plans to flaunt his impending fortune is one of many signs to NFL personnel types that he will become a franchise player. Raised by parents who stressed accountability, self-worth and respect for others, Ogden seems to be as grounded as anyone could hope.
"I know he's going to work hard. He's got a lot of pride, and he's a very smart guy," says San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard. "Whatever success he enjoys, I'll bet you he won't change. And that's probably a tribute to his parents."
Ogden is still a member of the UCLA track team, yet another indication that the bounty that looms has not gone to his head. He probably won't earn a berth on this year's Olympic team, but, says Bruins throws coach Art Venegas, "this is a guy who could medal at the '97 and '99 world championships and could win a gold at the Olympics in 2000." However, it's doubtful that the team drafting Ogden will want to allow him to dedicate so much time to the shot put. That he has never participated in spring football practice, says Chargers player personnel director Billy Devaney, "means you can almost say he's behind a lot of people, and that's scary. Once he devotes himself to football, he'll have a chance to be one of the alltime greats."
Ogden, however, would like to continue training with Venegas, partly because throwing brings him peace of mind. "Track keeps me busy, and I like being busy," Ogden says. "It's weird how all these people are trying to get a piece of me. When people grab at me, I try to avoid it, and track helps me do that. I also like that it's an individual sport, that it's just you against that ball."
Though he is affable and relentlessly polite, Ogden tends to feel most at ease as a party of one. "Jonathan learned at an early age that it was O.K. to be by himself," says his mother, Cassandra, the executive director of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, a nonprofit organization that works to create opportunities for minority students to attend law school. "Some people never learn that, and they're always seeking approval. His brother, Marques, is six years younger, and until he came along, Jonathan didn't have an in-the-house playmate."