By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com
Last Friday in Costa Mesa, outside the Los Angeles Chargers facility, I sat down with their 4th-year edge rusher, Uchenna Nwosu. By sitting down with Nwosu, I was looking to identify what went into his productive season and how different this season has been with the new coaching regime that’s taken over the Chargers. Additionally, I wanted to learn more about him as a person and how he’s grown since his rookie year.
Nwosu, a cool, laid-back Carson, California native, played multiple sports growing up. He played some tennis, soccer and mainly basketball. After being cut by the local pop warner football team, Nwosu didn’t try out for tackle football again until the tenth grade in high school.
He was fortunate enough to stay home and attend college at the University of Southern California while honing his craft. “Playing for USC was a great blessing; it was everything I could have expected and more.” In his career at USC Trojan Nwosu recorded 168 tackles, 12 sacks, one forced fumble, and 19 pass deflections.
Nwosu was proud to mention the biggest lesson he learned while at USC by stating, “the biggest lesson I learned at USC is how to be a man. In more ways than one, not just on the field, but off the field! How you treat people, how you manage your time, how to grow up. I credit that to the coaching staff I had at USC, coach Clay Helton, and coach Johnny Nansen. They taught me how to be more than just being a football player they taught me how to be a man.”
Nwosu was drafted by the Chargers in 2018, just after they relocated from San Diego to Los Angeles. Initially, their home games would be in his hometown of Carson, CA., before playing in the state-of-the-art SoFi stadium in Inglewood, CA. About playing for his newly minted hometown team, he said, “You can’t be mad at being able to be home and go get momma cooking any time! I’m very grateful to be here at home and have my friends and family around.”
Nwosu described his ah-ha moment in the NFL like this. “It was my first game. That first kickoff, I’ll never forget, actually running down the field and getting my first NFL tackle. I was like, man there was so much anticipation leading up to that point.”
I asked about his most memorable sack, Nwosu wasted no time telling me about it. “The playoff game my rookie year against Lamar Jackson! That was the one, helping us win a playoff game helped us go on to the next round, and to be able to contribute like that early in my career was fulfilling.”
I then asked him which quarterback he would like to sack that he hasn’t, with no hesitation, Nwosu said, “Mahomes!… I’ve gotten some good hits on him, but I haven’t been able to sack him or strip that ball from him yet. So, I’m looking to do that soon!”
Statistically, this has been one of Nwosu’s better seasons of his young career. He’s had his most hits on the opposing team’s quarterback this season. If you extrapolate the numbers, you’ll find that he’ll like have the most assisted tackles of his career, and most notably, he’s on pace to finish the season with a career-high in sacks.
With a new coaching staff taking over, I was interested in hearing what players see as the differentiator from one staff to the next. Nwosu told me, “I think the difference from last year is we give the teams a variety; giving other teams something other things to look at; it gives other teams more things to prepare for and more ways to have to defend us.”
When we talked about his production, Nwosu admitted that things haven’t been easy for him this season. Because he was adding undue pressure on himself, and it wasn’t until recently that his production started to pick up when he found his comfort zone.
“Definitely, I found a comfort zone, it took a while to get here, but I finally found it. I feel like young players, especially during a contract year, are when they start to panic a little bit and start to do a little too much, and start to force things and not let the game come to them. It took me about ten weeks to realize that.”
In the moment of honesty, Nwosu elaborated on why it has taken him so long to get comfortable this season, “When guys are in their contract year, they start to look beyond the moment they’re in right now. They start trying to force things and create magic; cause it’s contract time. I finally settled in and said, ‘Hey, just play the game I’ve been playing and do what I’ve been, and things will work out,’ and that’s what starting to happen.”
As mentioned, Nwosu is on pace for his most hits on the opposing quarterback, most assisted tackles, and the most sacks of his career. With this is happening with a new scheme shows that this new scheme fits his abilities. Coach Staley would say as much when asked about Nwosu recently, and he said, “He is one of our guys!”
As we sit down to conduct this interview outside the teams’ facilities, this is the closest I’ve come to the locker room access we’ve had in the pre-covid world. Coach Brandon Staley daps me up as he passes by us on his way to his Friday afternoon media availability session. What better chance to get Uchenna’s thoughts on the rookie head coach that seemed to have breathed life into a Chargers squad that has underwhelmed their fans in recent seasons.
“He’s a very confident and positive man. He’s always the same man every day. Since the day I’ve met him, he’s been the same guy all the time. I appreciate that, and it goes a long way.” Nwosu said with joy and appreciation how respected coach Staley has become among his teammates.
Nwosu also points out various ways Staley has built up his confidence throughout the season, “Treating me like a man; not giving up on me. When things were going rough for me, he stuck with me. Helping me believe in myself, keeping me positive, and always telling me, ‘I like what you’re doing. I like what you’re doing. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Supporting Staley’s idea that Nwosu is “one of our guys,” as he stated just last month, was Renaldo Hill, Chargers Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill. Hill said speaking, recently about Nwosu’s effectiveness, “I think that he has been steady all year long. He’s been stout in the run game for us all year long, setting great edges.”
These are more examples of Staley hitting many of the right buttons this season. Not only on Sunday, but in training camp, and each week, in their preparation for their upcoming games.
As a player of African descent Unchenna promotes NFL Africa on his Instagram page and I wanted to give him a chance to talk about it. He told me, “What they got going on is great! They are bringing light to the African American community in the NFL. They’re highlighting the guys who do good in the community, not on but off the field. I love everything they’re doing. It’s run by Osi Umenyiora, who played for the New York Giants and love everything they got going on.”
As we know, this is a talented Chargers team, and I thought it would be cool to hear his description of some of the players on his team. So, I proposed playing a name association game with him, where I would mention a player’s name, and he would tell me the first thing that came to his mind describing his teammates;
Derwin James Jr.- “Funny!”
Joey Bosa- “Funny!”
Linval Joseph- “Funny!”
Justin Herbert- “Innocent!”
Keenan Allen- “Hard Worker!”
Austin Ekeler- “Muscle!”
Rashawn Slater– “Stud!”
Justin Jones– “Dawg!”
It was a pleasure to sit down with the laid-back Uchenna Nwosu. I was surprised that he revealed that he was cut from the local Pop Warner football squad but just as pleased he was honest with me about the development of his season and his relationship with his coaching staff.
Kindly share your thoughts on Uchenna Nwosu, his career, and what impact you believe he will have on this Chargers team moving forward. With his contract coming up, is this a guy you would want them to resign? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics, angles, or players on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season.
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