The following story, written by Jeff Shearer, was originally published on auburntigers.com.
AUBURN, Ala. - As a law student, Ben Obomanu was easy to spot on fall Fridays. On a crimson campus, he was the guy wearing orange and blue.
"I would always take law school shirts and incorporate my own orange and blue," said Obomanu, who graduated from the University of Alabama's School of Law in 2018. "I did a lot of cool stuff that made it comfortable, abstaining from the other team's colors at all.
"I had to make sure that my wife, my family, friends, everybody, old teammates, Auburn family, knew that I was still a diehard Auburn man and an Auburn fan, too. Lucky enough, there were a lot of Auburn alums in my law school class."
A star receiver for the Tigers from 2002-05, Obomanu spent seven seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks before attending law school. At an Auburn Football Lettermen Club event, Ben received conflicting feedback from former teammates when he told them the destination for his legal education.
"Some people said you're sacrilegious, don't come back," Obomanu said. "Others gave me the advice, 'You better make sure that they know, and we know, that you're always an Auburn Tiger.'"
Obomanu carried out that directive with gusto. When his wife, Marquinta, a Seattle native unfamiliar with the intensity of the Iron Bowl rivalry, selected a pattern she saw in a Tuscaloosa shop to decorate their apartment, Ben set her straight.
"'It's not checkerboard. It's houndstooth,'" he told her. "'It's a long story. I'll tell you about it later but for now, let's get the receipt and take this stuff back.' It was a lot of tutelage for my wife, too, to make sure that she knew she was on the right team as well."
Growing up in a family of teachers in Selma, Alabama, Obomanu prioritized education from the beginning.
"You couldn't get away with saying, 'When I grow up I want to play in the NFL,'" said Obomanu, Selma High School's 2002 salutatorian. "'That's okay, what do you really want to do?'
"That goal, for me, had always been being a lawyer. I wanted to be an attorney, I wanted to practice law. They always instilled, 'Yes, you may be good at sports, but we want to make sure that you focus academically because we're all educators.' My mom couldn't have her son and her daughter not do well academically while she's a teacher herself.
"I think that springboarded me throughout my career, that good balance between being a student in the classroom with good grades and good character skills off the field but also excelling on the football field. It started as a little kid and continues to today."
One of the state's top recruits in 2002, Obomanu considered several SEC schools before choosing Auburn.
"I wanted to stay close to home," he said. "Auburn was the best place for me to go. You go on the recruiting visit and talk to the players, one thing that stood out to me was a lot of those players who were from the state, how they appreciated their families being able to come to games, being able to go home and get a home-cooked meal, or see mom, or see family.
"I think that was the biggest thing for me was being able to stay in state, play for a team that needed some receivers but also created the best opportunity for me to excel as a student-athlete as well, having that family support, so the decision came naturally."
Obomanu contributed instantly, helping Auburn win four consecutive Iron Bowls on its way to a program-best six-game winning streak over Alabama. Only Terry Beasley has caught more touchdown passes for Auburn than Obomanu's 18. In 2004, he led Auburn's 13-0 SEC championship team with seven receiving touchdowns.
"Coming in and playing early on, playing on an undefeated team, that '04 team was special," said Obomanu, who made six receptions for 93 yards including a 43-yard TD catch in Auburn's 38-28 win over Tennessee in the 2004 SEC Championship Game. "That's probably the most special moment of my collegiate career.
"I played with some very good, upstanding men who are also Auburn greats, but we also had those unsung heroes. Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, Courtney Taylor. We had four years together as receivers. Those were some good times in general, playing with some good Auburn men, but also some guys I consider a friend to this day."
Drafted by the Seahawks in the seventh round in 2006, Ben and Marquinta met in Seattle.
"That's the thing that has me here in the Pacific Northwest, the longevity of a solid career for one organization, finding my spouse, and the next part of life is raising two young girls and wanting them to be around grandparents here in Seattle but also making a lot of trips back home to Alabama, too," he said.
Ben works as a transactional attorney handling lender services documentation for real estate projects. Ben and Marquinta are raising two daughters, Savannah who turns 4 this summer, and 1-year-old Lauren.
"Trying to expand my tent a little bit more beyond sports," he said. "Washington State has a thriving real estate industry. Seattle is booming with a lot of new building construction. Most importantly, it was trying to strike that good balance of being a present father with little ones. Trying to figure out which legal career allows me to expand and learn the basic foundations of being in a law firm but also still be present at home with my wife and kids, and that's where I landed."
Ben envisions eventually merging his football experience with his legal skills to help other professional athletes.
"There's still an itch to get back into sports and connect this whole legal experience with sports," he said. "That's the end goal, I would say, to get foundation work now and then eventually find a way to merge it back to sports, more specifically, with student-athletes."
Attending high school two miles from the Edmund Pettus Bridge gave Obomanu a keen awareness of his hometown's role in the civil rights movement, sparking his interest in becoming an attorney.
"It was the history of my hometown, Selma's role in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and seeing how judges and lawyers were doing work in the background on trying to advance civil rights issues," he said. "You had your demonstrations, you had your protests, but then there were lawyers, the NAACP and other organizations coming in and trying to do the advocacy on the back end.
"I think today's moment in time harkens back to that same moment where this next generation of leaders is taking that history of protesting, of marching and trying to advance the ball forward and make the comfortable uncomfortable. That's what I see happening around the country.
"Student-athletes at Auburn, professional athletes are using their platform to say we can also effectuate change as well. We want to see the end of some of these issues that are plaguing our country. We can be more vocal, we can use our time, we can lend our voices and even lead.
"We're still marching, unfortunately over 50 years later we're still fighting for some of the same issues, but I think what you're seeing and experiencing in this moment in time is people going beyond just acknowledging there are some issues and now trying to effectuate some change and actually get a call for action.
"I'm glad that Auburn student-athletes, the campus, the university, a lot of our high-profile individuals but also a lot of businesses and organizations are all taking notice and trying to help move the ball forward. I'm excited for what comes out of this movement."