Friday, October 19, 2012

Nigeria's Ukwuachu Proves To Be A Quick Study For Boise State Football Team




BOISE, Idaho -- Boise State defensive end Sam Ukwuachu's parents grew up in Nigeria before settling near Houston to raise a family. They have five children - four of them girls.

Football was not in the picture, except on the TV.

"I watched it on TV every day," Ukwuachu said. "I loved how the guys played. I watched the NFL Network. I loved everything about it." He envisioned himself playing in those TV games some day and dedicated himself to making it happen.

The 6-foot-4, 222-pound Ukwuachu (pronounced oo-ka-watch-you), who began playing football in seventh grade despite his dad's injury concerns, is the only freshman starter for the 24th-ranked Broncos (No. 22 in the BCS Standings).

He has pushed himself from level to level with incremental goals like making the varsity squad at Pearland (Texas) High as a sophomore, earning a college scholarship and gaining the weight he needs to succeed at Boise State.

"I've always tried to get better, ever since I first tried to play football," he said. ". It just keeps going until hopefully one day I get to the next step." It helps that Ukwuachu enjoys the work.

Pearland coach Tony Heath remembers Ukwuachu researching various teams on the Internet and talking about high school, college and pro football with him.

"He was career-driven," said Heath, who won the 2010 state title with Ukwuachu at end and wide receiver. "He loved the game of football. He studied the game of football. And he took care of his classes to where he was able to qualify and get to the next level. . He found a hook in athletics that was driving him and steering him and I think it paid off for him." Ukwuachu, a redshirt freshman, has started the past five games. He has 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. He's tied for the national lead in recoveries.

He plays the stud position, which requires him to drop into pass coverage at times. He ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range in high school.

Ukwuachu chose Boise State over Illinois, Louisville and Houston, among others. Other schools took a look and passed because of his size - about 200 pounds in high school.

"He was a big, tall athlete who played with pretty good toughness," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "I know a lot of guys looked at him and tried to figure out what exactly he is. How we're using him is exactly how he needs to be used. It's a really good fit." Ukwuachu has gotten his weight as high as 230 pounds this year. He hopes to reach 245 by next season.

The key is to put on the weight without losing the speed and agility that make him such a weapon as a pass rusher.

"He's pretty much the same body type as me," redshirt freshman tight end Holden Huff (6-5, 213) said. "We're both shifty and slithery. He's quick. It is definitely a changeup to what you're used to blocking." Ukwuachu has learned to accentuate his quickness. Instead of trying to move a lineman, he'll strike quickly and try to shed the block. Instead of the bull rush, he tries to slip through a crack to the inside or zip around the outside.

His weight primarily is a concern as a run defender - but so far that hasn't been a problem. He does notice a difference, though, with the weight he has put on in the past year.

Miami (Ohio) started a 348-pound tackle.

"I'm not too weak as to where I'm getting driven back off the ball," he said. "I feel like I can hold my own against some of the heavier tackles." Like high school, he has taken a studious approach to the game. He has learned the value of video study from veterans like cornerback Jamar Taylor.

Ukwuachu and sophomore Demarcus Lawrence, the other starting end, study opponents together and collaborate during games. Ukwuachu's fumble-forcing sack against Southern Miss came on a move suggested by Lawrence.

"I'm getting better every week," Ukwuachu said. "I'm learning a lot more than I did in the first couple games about dissecting the offense. I'm getting better at watching film - little things that help me learn how to be a better football player.

"On the field, I've been trying to finish plays, trying to get more sacks. I've been coming close a lot more. I've got to work on finishing plays."

...........CHADD CRIPE/THE KANSAS CITY STAR
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