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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football’s Onwuasor stepping up to the plate

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Larry Hogan / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Jared Tevis has been one of Arizona’s most valuable defensive players so far this season, as he’s the second-leading tackler and has two interceptions. On Saturday against Oregon State, Tevis was forced to leave the game with an ankle injury, and the Wildcats needed someone to fill his role as the “bandit” safety in the UA’s 3-3-5 defense.

Enter Peanut.

For a safety described by his coaches and teammates as “physical” and “aggressive”, redshirt freshman Patrick Onwuasor doesn’t have the most intimidating of nicknames.

“He’s got a little peanut-shaped head,” receiver Dan Buckner said.

“It’s not the first time he’s heard it,” Buckner added. “I mean when you’ve got a peanut head, you’re gonna notice that you’ve got a peanut head.”

The Peanut moniker has followed Onwuasor since he was a kid, to the point that he said it sounds weird when people call him Patrick.

“I’ve had it since I was little, so I just built it up when I came here,” Onwuasor said.

If Tevis can’t return from his ankle injury anytime soon, Peanut might become a familiar sight outside of the Arizona locker room.

Onwuasor has appeared in four different games this season, but his first extended playing time came against Oregon State.

“Peanut played very physical, played pretty well,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “[Tevis] has been playing as great as any safety we’ve had in a long time, but Peanut came in and did a pretty solid job.”

Onwuasor finished with eight tackles and made a couple big hits, including one early in the game that impressed linebacker Marquis Flowers.

“He’s aggressive. I like [Onwuasor],” Flowers said. “Being young like that, I think it’s good for him to get in and I think he’s gonna do great. He has a lot of potential.”

Onwuasor had no intention of playing defensive back when he came to the UA, but he’s embraced his role all the same. When he committed to Arizona out of Inglewood, Calif., he didn’t come in as a top defensive recruit — in fact, he didn’t come as a defender at all.

He chose Arizona because it was one of the few schools offering the chance to play wide receiver instead of safety.

Onwuasor never truly abandoned the safety mentality though. During his time as wide receiver, he played aggressively and physically in practice. Both Flowers and Buckner noticed his physicality and tendency to hit people, even as a receiver.

“Patrick is a physical dude no matter what side of the ball he’s on,” Buckner said.

Once safety Adam Hall went down for the second consecutive season with an ACL tear, the coaches looked for a player to switch positions and add some more depth to the safety spot, and there was Onwuasor. His time as receiver won’t go completely to waste though, as Onwuasor said it helped give him some added understanding for the position he now defends.

“I can read the receivers, I know what they’re doing,” he said. “I know how they come off the ball — if they’re really gonna run a route or if they’re gonna come out and pass block.”

While a position change from offense to defense requires adjustment, Onwuasor said his nerves weren’t a problem when he was thrown into the game, even though he was facing the No. 18 team in the nation.

“When Tevis went down, nobody got nervous, they already knew I was ready,” Onwuasor said. “They just called my name and I was ready to play. I just played.”

A large part of his confidence arose from his close relationship with Tevis.

Onwuasor said Tevis gave him instructions every time he went to the sidelines, and even though they’re part of the same class, Onwuasor looks up to Tevis like he is a “big brother.” He admitted that he’ll still be leaning on Tevis for some help, if he’s not ready to go against Stanford. Buckner sees a few similarities between the two, in particular their hard-hitting style of play.

“[Onwuasor] did his thing [against Oregon State],” Buckner said.

“I mean he stepped up big and I feel like he played pretty good. I saw him making big hits and things like that.

“You like to see that coming in. Tevis makes big hits, so he looked similar.”

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