Like a firecracker, Baltimore Ravens running back Ovie Mughelli has been waiting for his chance to explode ever since he arrived as a fourth-round draft pick out of Wake Forest in 2003.
But Mughelli's journey to the playing field and the Ravens' offense has been more like a sparkler until very recently.
"I remember being told, 'You're never going to make it in this league,'" recalls the 6-foot-1, 255-pound fullback. "Everybody just said, sit there and wait, you're not good enough right now."
That "everybody" included Ravens head coach Brian Billick. When Mughelli arrived in Baltimore, the Ravens already had an established blocking back for Jamal Lewis in Alan Ricard. So instead of sulking, Mughelli went about trying to make a name for himself on special teams.
"I love playing special teams, and I've never let anyone downgrade what we do or belittle what we do, because there are three phases to a team winning games, which is offense, defense and special teams," says Mughelli, whose special teams play led to a game ball on three occasions last season.
As a high school star in his hometown of Charleston, S.C., Mughelli got used to having his name in the lights on a frequent basis. He rushed for more than 4,500 yards and scored 69 touchdowns during his career at Porter-Gaud, where he starred as a halfback. As a senior, he rushed for 2,167 yards and 29 touchdowns, which earned him state Player of the Year honors.
However, Mughelli shifted over to fullback at Wake Forest, and with that came the end of his time in the limelight.
"In college, I had no highlight films," he says. "I switched to fullback and it was all about me making the tailback look good, me helping the rushing game, and me just being a cog in the offensive machine that we were. I accepted that role because it got me to where I am today."
While he was hardly part of the Ravens offense during the first three NFL seasons, Mughelli continued to make the most of his opportunities on special teams.
"I'm pretty brutal and I love contact," says Mughelli, whose first name means "king" in the native language of his Nigerian-born parents. "Special teams players hated me. Every game I'd hit a guy on the 5-yard line and he'd end up at the 10."
But as much as he loved special teams, Mughelli, 26, always longed for more, and he used the lack of playing time as motivation to work harder and focus more.
"Ever since my rookie year, I've been saying, give me an opportunity, give me a chance," says Mughelli. I'd say, 'Coach, how do you know that I can't do it if you don't give me a chance?' He'd just say, 'The guy right now is doing it and he's doing a good job, and we really don't need you.' I'd say, 'I know you don't need me and you think the guy right now is doing a good job, but how do you know, that I can't do better? That was always my question to him. I just wanted an opportunity, a chance."