Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 27 of 99

28 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI S enior Sam linebacker James On- wualu serves as perhaps the best reminder of how green Notre Dame's 2016 receiving corps is. Onwualu's four starts as a freshman wideout in 2013 are the most on the roster, or three more than classmate Tori Hunter Jr. had in 2015 while shar- ing time in the slot with the gradu- ated Amir Carlisle. As a freshman, Onwualu caught only two passes for 34 yards — yet that first number still ranks second this year among Irish wideouts to Hunter Jr.'s 35 career grabs. "I'm trying to tell Coach to bring me back [to offense], see if I can do a little both ways," joked the 6-1, 232-pound Onwualu, who has started 17 games the past two seasons at Sam linebacker and has 68 career tackles. It was three years ago that Onwualu, Hunter Jr., Will Fuller and Corey Rob- inson comprised a promising fresh- man receiving corps that helped Notre Dame's recruiting class rank No. 3 in the country. Now, Fuller already is in the NFL as a first-round pick, while Notre Dame student body president Robinson, who nabbed 65 passes during his career, de- cided to end his football playing days after suffering multiple concussions (Robinson is still serving as a student assistant for the receivers). Onwualu's decision to switch to de- fense was voluntary after his freshman campaign, even though he had mini- mal experience on that side of the ball at Cretin-Derham in St. Paul, Minn., which has produced top Notre Dame stars such as offensive tackle Ryan Harris (2003-06) and all-time receiving leader Michael Floyd (2008-11). "I honestly wasn't sure receiver was the spot for me anyway, so I walked right up to Coach [Brian] Kelly's of- fice and we had a talk about where I wanted to go and what my thoughts were for my career," Onwualu said. "We ended up agreeing that the de- fensive side, we might as well give it a shot, and it worked out. I knew they would take care of me." The transition seemed imminent because of Onwualu's physical ap- proach. He was a mainstay on spe- cial teams (six tackles) as a freshman and also was a standout blocker as a receiver, including driving his man past the goal line on Cam McDaniel's game-winning seven-yard touchdown run behind him in the 17-13 win over Michigan State, the lone loss that sea- son for the 13-1 Spartans. His advice to the current youth- laden receiving corps is to find a niche that helps them gain some separation — and not just the kind from defensive backs. "A lot of the receivers, they wouldn't like me to say this, but sometimes they're a little bit more pretty boy than some of the D-boys," Onwualu said with a smile. "They need to go out there and be willing to play special teams, be willing to block a linebacker, do some of the gritty stuff in order to help the team. "Not everybody is going to be catch- ing touchdowns their first year. Every- body has to fit into his own role." "Gritty stuff" is the hallmark of On- wualu's football career so far. The 2016 role for Onwualu is similar to what fifth-year senior safety Matthias Farley had in 2015: Nothing flashy, but quietly and efficiently going about his duties. Like Farley, who also was a wide re- ceiver as a freshman before transition- ing to defense, Onwualu appears des- tined for a captaincy this season. Overall Leader Overshadowed his first three seasons, Sam linebacker James Onwualu is a top voice on the team this year

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Preseason 2016