NNAMDI OGUAYO (Cougfan.com/Commons)

Cougar Nnamdi Oguayo, projected by CF.C at top of defensive end depth chart at spring's end, has taken unusual path

PULLMAN —Washington State's Nnamdi Oguayo (6-3, 229) always wanted to be a wide receiver, and for one reason in particular. But in wrapping up this spring session at WSU, the third-year sophomore defensive end is brimming with confidence about his role on D. “I’m not going to let someone take my spot right now,” he told CF.C with a smile.

Projected by CF.C at the top of d-line coach Jeff Phelps' depth chart at defensive end coming out of spring drills, Oguayo has come a long way from his high school days. He didn’t play any sports at first, not until coaches for both football and basketball approached him at High Point High in Beltsville, Maryland.

“I didn’t play anything. I was always a bookworm. My parents were Nigerians . . . they didn’t really care for sports. It was always ‘school, school, school,’” he said.

Oguayo didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school. But the first-generation Nigerian-American quickly fell in love with the game in his home state of Maryland.

“I wasn’t really too interested in basketball,” he said. “I thought a lot of guys were soft. I tend to be angry on the court and most guys don’t like that.”

After promising his mother that he would get straight A’s, she relented and allowed him to play on the gridiron. The next hurdle was finding a position, which wasn’t easy at first.

“I wanted to be a receiver like all the cool guys,” Oguayo fondly recalled. “They get all the girls.”

WHILE WIDE RECEIVER was certainly a logical choice for one of the tallest kids in the school, the talent just wasn’t there.

“I wasn’t really good,” Oguayo laughed, disdainfully looking down at his hands. “I couldn’t catch to save my life. Coach came to me and said, ‘We gotta find something else for you to do. You like hitting? 'When the ball snaps, go and hit him,’ and he pointed to the quarterback. 'He (the offensive lineman) is gonna try and stop you. Don’t let him stop you. Go hit the quarterback.’”

Concluding a story he clearly loves telling, Oguayo said the results couldn’t have been better.

“The first play — boom! It was like instinct, like I was born to do it. I hit his hand away, dipped, and tackled the QB. Everyone went crazy," said Oguayo.

Before long, Oguayo was generating interest from FBS programs.

“It was weird because I didn’t know anything about the recruiting process,” he said. “I just wanted something to play. I never thought I’d be considered good or okay enough to play in college.”

Luckily for Oguayo, a chance encounter between his High Point coaches and a rehabbing Ravens practice squad player — brought Andre Cates to Beltsville, where he helped the young lineman through the recruiting process.

“Andre Cates ... he was my lifeline,” said Oguayo, noting that when he got his first offer from Pitt he “couldn’t really get happy about it because I didn’t know what an offer was. I really didn’t even know what Pitt was, cause I didn’t watch football, either.”

As he got more familiar with the process, Oguayo said he began to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sundays — and that his favorite player was one-time WSU commit and eventual Pittsburgh Steelers star Troy Polamalu.

“That’s the main reason I liked football, 'cause of him. I always wanted his hair, too. I tried to grow my hair out but my mom was not having it," said Oguayo.

Though he would sometimes disagree with his parents’ strict rules, Oguayo now says that the pressure they exerted on him probably helped his status as a D-I prospect. By showing potential schools that he was not an academic or character risk, he thinks he improved his status over similarly inexperienced players.

OGUAYO CHOSE WSU because it was “the best football fit.” But the D.C.-born, Baltimore-bred Oguayo experienced a little culture shock upon arriving in Pullman.

“Living out here was tough (initially). It was isolated ... But the atmosphere when I got here was just amazing," said Oguayo.

Now, of course, Oguayo has settled in nicely at WSU and says there is no place he'd rather be.  Regarding this upcoming season, his plan is simple: get bigger, get faster, and keep the starting job at defensive end. He was playing inside on the d-line earlier, but he's been back outside of late.

“I’m an end right now and I’m hoping to stay there,” he said, adding that playing tackle for him "is a little bit boring. With end, you can beat people with speed.”

While he had a very productive spring, he’s looking forward to playing in games again.

“Spring is a teaser. It’s a necessary evil,” he said. 

Although Oguayo disputes the 6-3, 229 pounds he's listed at on WSU's official roster — he says he’s 6-4 and 231 pounds — he knows he’s got to get bigger still if he wants to dominate in the Pac-12, or play at the next level.

Indeed, when asked about players he likes to watch, Oguayo immediately mentioned Myles Garret, the Texas A&M lineman expected to be the first pick on Thursday in the NFL draft.

At 6-5, 270 pounds, Garret is obviously bigger than Oguayo, but the Cougar DE thinks the comparison still works.  Oguayo and his coaches are hoping he can weigh around 245-250 pounds before the season begins.

“We are a similar type of size,” he said of Garret. “He has weight on me, but in terms of the way we both pass rush, it’s kind of similar ... if I can get my weight up, and I’m already faster than him, that’s potential right there.”

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