Illini Defensive Line Depth Includes Wisdom

Fans and media alike wondered aloud whether the Fighting Illini football team would be able to create depth at defensive tackle after the loss of superstar Corey Liuget to the NFL. Waiting in the background, almost an unknown going into the season, was fifth year walkon Wisdom Onyegbule. Experience, intelligence and dedication have earned him playing time this season.

Wisdom Onyegbule came to Illinois as a track walkon but missed football. He switched sports after a year and has labored in obscurity ever since. He recovered a fumble early in the 2010 season, but he played sparingly thereafter.

Onyegbule is helping the Illini in 2011 according to defensive line coach Keith Gilmore.

"Wisdom has probably been the most solid inside backup. He's come in and got some quality minutes. He's a senior, and it's been time to step up and produce. He's done what we've asked. He's done a good job."

The Bolingbrook product has felt an urgency to be the best he can be in his final year.

"I'm a fifth year senior. It feels like time is really running out on a lot of things, on playing, the season. This is my last time, and I want to do everything I can do."

Does it bother him to be overlooked by the so-called experts?

,P>"Yeah, I see that all the time. They don't really know what's going on, so I'm not really worried about it. I don't mind surprising everybody."

The 6'-3", 285 pounder has transformed his body since joining the football team. He was noticeably quicker in the spring, and that has continued this fall.

"I've gained some weight, but I'm getting more used to my weight. I dropped the weight, and then I gained it back slower. I was getting used to it, and I was running faster. I want to just make sure I still have that quick twitch.

"Now that I know all the plays, there's no more thinking and slowing up my step. I can just go. That's the main thing I've been working on."

He has learned both nose tackle and three-technique tackle, and he plays both spots.

"I'm trying to work my way up to, if not starting, then getting into a three man rotation with the nose and three technique. I decided I was gonna learn both to increase my chances of playing.

"The coach keeps giving me pointers on what to work on. I don't just want to play, I want to be perfect."

He has also devoted plenty of time to film study.

"I've been watching a lot of film on Corey Liuget because he was doing something right and was very great."

He saw Liuget's leaving as an opportunity, and he has toiled endlessly to fill the void.

"Like my coach Gilmore always says, 'Next man in.' Even the superstars had people like me busting for who we had to fill in for. We've just got to step up, and we have.

"Even though our superstars are missing, some other people are gonna step in and become superstars themselves. Just because a few people left, it doesn't mean the whole defense changed. We've still got the coaches, we've still got the plays, and we still have players. We actually have more depth on the team."

Onyegbule is better at some things than others, but he is trying to balance that out.

"As of right now, I'm better against the pass. But I'm working on getting down lower to work on the run too. The main thing I've been working on is getting off the ball right off the snap, and also working on getting the offensive lineman's hands off me. I don't want to be touched at all. I want a clear path."

He is not surprised by the quick start to the season. It was building all year long.

"It was an awesome summer before camp. We came together as a team, and the leadership was there. We can still work on a few things, but it just seems like everything is coming together. I really like that part of it. The chemistry is definitely there. I saw it all summer."

Onyegbule is living a dream most true Illini fans share. He is playing for a team and school he loves, and he's making a contribution. He was an Illini long before he enrolled, and he will be one always.

"In the years past, Illinois has that tradition of winning. I was watching the team during the Rose Bowl season, and the team is coming back. I really love Illinois. I said, 'I have to be part of this tradition. I've got to keep it going.'

"We've had down years, but we've been increasing. Last year, we took a great step in the right direction. This year, we're going even further."

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