Onyeali stepping up big

Even in the major high school ranks, let alone in BCS conference teams, 5-11 defensive ends are few and far in between. Not only is Nduka Onyeali one of those uncommon players, but his performance in fall camp has certainly been higher than his stature. Consequently, he is one of at least four true freshmen who will suit up for ASU this weekend for their season opener against Portland State.

The defensive end is a graduate of Mullen High School in Denver, Col. a known prep powerhouse in that state. He was named the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year in the state of Colorado and earned All-Colorado and All-Class 5A honors by the Denver Post. He was listed as the No. 56 defensive end recruit in the country by Scout.com, and recorded 16 quarterback sacks and approximately 90 tackles as a senior in 2009, as he helped lead Mullen to an undefeated season and the Colorado Class 5A state championship.

"He had a great camp," said Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson of Onyeali. "He's got such great explosiveness and speed. He can fly, he's not very big as you can see, but he's going to be a real impact pass rusher for us this year. You'll see him probably quite a bit in the nickel stuff. We thought he'd be pretty good, but he's better than we thought"

"We knew he was someone who has a lot of explosiveness," said Sun Devil defensive line coach Grady Stretz in a previous interview, "and has an element of speed that is very hard to find at the defensive end position. He has a lot of talent as a rush end, and has become a lot more physical in the run game. He's starting to put it all together and I think he has a lot of upside to him.

"He's really intense and he wants to be coached hard. He's exactly the type of player that we are looking for when we recruit defensive linemen."

With the pre-season coming to close in a few days, Onyeali is humbly pleased with what he has accomplished in the last three and half weeks.

"I'm feeling good right now," said the 5-11 233 Nduka Onyeali. "Just trying to help the defense as much as I can. It's been an adjustment going against stronger players than I did in high school. That has been the biggest difference. You also need to pay attention more to smaller technical details than you did before."

While his build is certainly more suited for an outside linebacker, Onyeali will be exclusively playing with the front four this season.

"I'll definitely be getting some playing time in nickel and 30 (3-4 alignment)," Onyeali stated. "I'm running with the second team at defensive end so I know I'll get some snaps in base (defense) too. Whatever time I get I'll make the most of it."

Aptly the defensive end goes by ‘Junior' and accepts the fact that his physical measurements will always be part of the discussion when his name is brought up.

"I don't blame them because I'm definitely not your prototypical defensive end," Onyeali acknowledged. "But (NFL players) Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil aren't not your prototypical defensive ends either and they do well. So that's how I look at it all the time."

"When I'm out there playing I have to use my speed and I have the built in pad leverage already. Those parts are easy."

With the 2010 season opener less than a week away, Onyeali is naturally excited, but not to the point where he feels that he will experience sleepless night thinking of what his inaugural college contest will look and feel like.

"I can't wait because it is my first college game and I obviously I never experienced that," Onyeali said. "It's definitely something that I've seen a lot and I can't wait to be a part of it now. My parents are going to come and check out some of my games so that's cool."

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