In-form defender Elliot Omozusi popped into the education suite situated on the fifth floor of the Matchroom Stadium’s West stand recently to talk with Leyton Orient BTEC students about the highs and lows of his career, how he deals with adversity and how he is thankful for the support of the club, referring to his time in prison and subsequent second chance.
Since returning to the club following his time in prison, Elliot has transformed his life both on and off the pitch. Playing with an assured confidence, Omozusi picked up the supporters Player of the Month award for October, something that seemed improbable when he first re-signed for the club.
“I remember there were a few supporters who stated they wouldn’t watch Orient whilst I was playing and apparently some even returned their season tickets so to receive this hopefully proves that I am here to play football and give 100% for the club,” said Elliot. “What happened happened and I’m not proud of that. I made a mistake and paid a big price but the support I had from the gaffer (Russell Slade), the players and staff and of course my family kept me focused and determined to change.”
Since January, Omozusi has been visiting youth clubs, educational establishments and estate based projects on a regular basis, speaking to young people about the highs of his early playing days for Fulham in the Premiership against the likes of Ronaldo to the lows of injuries that almost cost him his career and of course his time in prison.
“I grew up on an estate in Hackney and stayed tight with all the guys,” he continued. “I did well at school and realised I had to have discipline to be a professional footballer so I’d be in bed on a Friday night whilst they’d be partying! They understood that and supported me. You don’t lose that friendship and we’re not bad people. Unfortunately, sometimes someone makes a bad decision and you get involved. It’s all about being aware and having the strength to break away.”
Questions from the group were plentiful including what Elliot did with his time whilst in prison. “I was lucky,” declared Omozusi. “The club had called the prison to ask if there was a way I could try and keep fit and they offered me work in the gym. I ended up in there eight hours a day, helping with programmes and cleaning but obviously using the equipment to maintain some fitness”.
One of the students, Shaq, told the story of how he was dropped from another Premier league football club and found it mentally tough to persevere but hearing Elliot’s stories had given him a renewed outlook. “I got passed over and found myself here at Orient thinking I’ve dropped out of the system compared to where I was,” said Shaq, “But listening to Elliot makes sense. You have to be strong and really want to make your dreams come true to succeed. There is always a chance. You just have to make it happen and give your all trying.”
Elliot is set to continue his message bearing for the remainder of the season including a proposed visit to the Youth Offenders Institute in Chelmsford and is to be nominated as the clubs PFA Community Player of the Year.