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Talented Edmond Santa Fe product gives OU recruiting class some local flavor
If Mike Onuoha’s current stock evaluation was based on raw talent value and how that relates to his potential as a collegiate defensive end, the final analysis would bode well for both the player and Oklahoma football.
As Edmond Santa Fe coach Lance Manning puts it, “Mike has got such a high ceiling because he’s really just begun to realize his potential. There is no doubt his best football is still ahead of him.”
That fact was not lost on OU coach Bob Stoops and his staff when they went out in search of replacements for departing defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis, both of whom played instrumental roles in the Sooners’ defensive success the last few seasons. With junior college standout Chaz Nelson and Baltimore product Charles Tapper verbally committed to bring their respective skills to the mix, the focus fell on Onuoha as National Signing Day approached.
To that point, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Onuoha (pronounced On-o-ha) had narrowed his options to Oklahoma and Missouri, and many believed the Tigers, with their move to the Southeastern Conference, might have the inside track.
It basically came down to one final pitch from the OU staff the weekend prior to signing day, as Onuoha and fellow prospects Zack Sanchez, Courtney Gardner and Will Latu made their way to Norman on Jan. 27. As it turned out, the 11th-hour visit proved to be a windfall for the Sooners.
Latu, the nation’s top-ranked junior college offensive lineman at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., committed to the Sooners the following day, followed by Sanchez, a talented defensive back from Keller, Texas, a day later.
Gardner, a big-play receiver from Sierra Community College in Roseville, Calif., would wait until National Signing Day to pick the Sooners — while Onuoha’s commitment on the final day of January gave the Sooners a clean sweep.
“It was a very tough decision because you are talking about your future for the next four or five years,” said Onuoha. “There are so many factors that go into it, and both sides are making a strong case about why you should come there. There were a lot of positives on both sides.
“It basically came down to the fact I felt OU was just the best fit for me. I grew up following the Sooners and watching guys like Adrian Peterson play, and to realize I have the opportunity to be a part of such a great program is really special.”
A fledgling running back in the early stages of his football career, Onuoha initially figured his tall, lean build would be better suited for basketball. And that was his focus until two years ago, when he began to garner some attention as a defensive lineman.
“I really wasn’t a football guy. I played football, but I was always more into basketball in junior high. That was my focus until my junior season,” said Onuoha. “That’s when my thinking began to change, as I began to develop more and understand the potential I had in football. When that happened, I made a decision to really focus on football and see where that took me.”
While injuries slowed his progress in 2010, Onuoha used his size, speed and athleticism to dominate opposing linemen this past fall to the tune of 87 tackles, 13 quarterback hurries and six sacks. He also had eight tackles for losses in helping the Wolves post a 10-2 record.
“Mike is still green and raw right now, but he’s a young man with so many positives working in his favor,” said Manning, who took the head job at Santa Fe last year. “He really decided to commit himself to football this past year and you could see it in the way he performed this past season. I think he’s got a chance to do great things at OU.”
Onuoha figures he’ll be asked to put on up to 30 pounds of muscle once he arrives on campus later this summer. The Santa Fe product already has a head start on that process, packing on 15 pounds since the end of football season.
“When I get there, I’m going to work hard and do whatever they want me to do to put myself in a position to play,” said Onuoha, whose parents were born in Nigeria. “I’ve seen how hard guys like R.J. Washington and David King work when I’ve been on campus, and I know I can learn a lot from those guys and the rest of my teammates and coaches.”
Recruited initially by defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright and Bob Stoops, Onuoha was excited to see Mike Stoops rejoin the OU staff in late January. Although he hated to see Brent Venables depart, he believes good things are in store for the OU defense.
“You have to like what Coach (Mike) Stoops is going to bring to the defense. He coaches with such energy and passion,” said Onuoha. “I’m excited about getting down there, learning the defense and showing what I can do.”
(Editor's Note: This story appears in Sooner Spectator's 2012 Recruiting Issue. To read more or subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877.)