Bright Ugwoegbu is No. 1 this season
CORVALLIS — Bright Ugwoegbu has a new lease on his football career as he prepares to begin his senior season at Oregon State.
He also has a new jersey number, courtesy of coach Gary Andersen.
The Beavers' starting "B" outside linebacker has switched from No. 47 to No. 1 this season.
"No. 47 was me," Ugwoegbu says. "I loved balling in it. But when the option of changing numbers was brought up, I asked 'Coach A' if I could wear No. 1.
"I've always been a single-digit guy. I never wore a number higher than six or seven before I came to Oregon State. No. 1 was the only available (single-digit) number. I asked for it, and he said, 'Yeah, why not?' "
Ugwoegbu is back healthy after missing the final three games last season with a foot injury that required a pair of offseason reconstructive surgeries. He missed spring ball, but was cleared to run in June, and "I feel like I'm damn close to 100 percent now," he says.
That's a good thing for outside linebackers coach Chad Kauha'aha'a, who considers Ugwoegbu his best and most seasoned player at the position. Ugwoegbu registered 54 tackles, including a team-high 5 1/2 sacks, despite missing the final three games a year ago.
"We expect those numbers to go up this season," Kauha'aha'a says. "The guy had four missed sacks, too, where he peeled off a quarterback. Those will be sacks this season, with better technique and his new strength."
When Ugwoegbu arrived on campus in 2014 from Katy, Texas, he was 6-1 and a wiry 198 pounds. Three years later, he is 6-2 and a sturdy 235.
"People don't realize how strong Bright is," Kauha'aha'a says. "He's long and lean, but his weight-room numbers are pretty dang good for a guy his size."
Ugwoegbu is ideal for the outside 'backer position for another reason.
"Bright has the speed and quickness to cover," Kauha'aha'a says. "We can line him up on receivers, not just tight ends. Last year, we used him to play the same coverages a nickel back can play. This year, with another season under his belt, he can do it even better.
"We're going to bring him (on blitzes) from the outside, and we might loop him around (inside), too. We can use him in multiple ways in our defense this year."
Kauha'aha'a calls Ugwoegbu "a true leader to our group" of outside 'backers, which had four true freshman see action a year ago. Junior Jonathan Willis and sophomore Shemar Smith are battling for the starting "F" spot on the other side.
OSU coaches moved Smith to the "F" linebacker last week.
"Shemar is playing lights out right now," Kauha'aha'a says. "We weren't getting the production we wanted out of Willis and the backups. Shemar knew it was going to be tough getting on the field (at the "B" spot) with Bright out there. Since the switch, Shemar has been doing nothing but good stuff."
Senior Manase Hungalu, a returning starter, has a stronghold on one of the inside 'backer positions. Sophomore Andrzej Hughes-Murray is the leader to claim the other starting spot, but is getting a strong push from true freshman Kesi Ah-Hoy.
"Kesi is doing some outstanding things out there," Kauha'aha'a says. "He is a mature kid and an instinctive player. Physically, Kesi has a ways to go, but coach Andersen isn't in the business of saving a freshman's season if he's a guy capable of helping us right now."
Even with the loss of departed senior Caleb Saulo at inside 'backer, Kauha'aha'a expects the linebacker group to be better than it was a year ago.
"It's an explosive, athletic group on the outside, and we have better depth on the inside than we did last year," Kauha'aha'a says. "And it's a more mature group on the outside."
Ugwoegbu agrees with his coach.
"We have a lot of depth, a lot of experienced guys who have been on the field," he says. "Where we are right now is way beyond where I thought we'd be."
Ugwoegbu has high expectations for the Beavers as a whole, too.
"We can make a bowl game, and much more," he says. "But that's the minimum."