In recruiting offensive and defensive linemen, Washington State football coaches place more emphasis on height, frame and athleticism than on weight.
The weight will come, they figure.
So they had no qualms about offering a scholarship in early 2015 to a 6-foot-3 but slender defensive end in Maryland, who had drawn two of five stars, at best, in the handicappers’ rating systems.
Now a second-year freshman, Nnamdi Oguayo is repaying the coaches’ faith in him. He broke through for three of WSU’s five sacks last weekend in its 69-7 win over Arizona.
The Cougars (7-2, 6-0 Pac-12) aim for their eighth straight win Saturday at home against California (4-5, 2-4).
Oguayo, still undersized at 227 pounds, has played an increasingly prominent backup role for the Cougars’ speedy and protean defensive line, helping it overcome the loss to school-imposed suspensions of rush linebacker Logan Tago and nose tackle Robert Barber.
Oguayo has spent time at rush LB, but has been especially effective lately at defensive end, saying that he “cut it loose” against Arizona because he was “tired of being uptight.”
“He’s doing really well,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “He’s been explosive from the beginning, and is just getting more consistent and better.”
Oguayo grew up in Beltsville, Maryland, less than 30 miles from Washington, D.C., and chose Washington State over suitors in the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences partly because he liked the school’s rural setting.
“I’d say it’s less distractions,” he said this week. “It’s kind of chill, and I like it.”
Off the field, “it’s been pretty tough — I’m so far away from home,” he said, “but I’ve got a new family here right now. They’re taking care of me.”
Cougars outside-linebackers coach Roy Manning said Oguayo was generally underrated by recruiters.
“He’s what you would call a raw guy, a late bloomer,” Manning said. “But he had the makeup to be something special. It’s a matter of identifying it before it actually all came together. He was 6-4, probably about 200 pounds. You’ve got to know that you’re going to put on weight and add strength and size once you get to college. That’s one thing we did a good job of projecting, and so far he’s done a great job.
“No doubt he’s giving up some weight in there, but he’s naturally so strong. He doesn’t get pushed around much on the field.”
Leach continues to suggest that his defense has been placed at an unnecessary disadvantage because of the loss of Tago and Barber, though coaches and players have adjusted admirably.
Tago will be arraigned in Whitman County on Nov. 18 on charges of second-degree robbery and fourth-degree assault. Barber has yet to be charged by prosecutors but has been suspended by school administration after being accused of assault.
Leach, pointing out that he is considered by many to be a disciplinarian, again implied that his players, in the cases that have sprung up in recent months, were unfairly accused by police or, in the case of Barber, the WSU student-conduct board.
“Other settings and situations, those guys wouldn’t have been lost,” Leach said this week, referring also to safety Shalom Luani, who missed the Cougars’ season opener on an apparent team suspension.
“And so I do think it’s damaging to our team, and I think it’s damaging from the standpoint that you have to work around some things that are a disadvantage to us that wouldn’t be a disadvantage to other schools. And there’s a point to where we’ve got to get that congruent.
“Those guys are all a big part of our team, and they should be on the team. And you’re talking to somebody that cuts somebody if they test positive for drugs. Just knowing the facts like I do and having evaluated it, we’re just tangled up in a bunch of bureaucracy and it shouldn’t be.”
Tago, a sophomore, has missed four games but is being allowed to practice.
Barber, a senior, has missed two games and is suspended from football and on-campus classwork, but is hoping that either the Whitman County Superior Court or the WSU board of regents intervenes in his case. The decision whether to pursue a felony assault charge against him may not come before the end of the year even as attorneys will make arguments next week before a judge about the process used to suspend him.
Dan LeBeau, chief deputy Whitman County prosecutor, said Wednesday that the volume of information provided by Pullman police investigators has delayed his charging decision.
Barber and Toso “T.J.” Fehoko were arrested on Sept. 16 on charges of second-degree assault stemming from a July 23 brawl at a party that left one man with a concussion and another with a broken jaw.
The number of witnesses and interviews both delayed the investigation and complicated the review by LeBeau on whether to pursue the felony charges, lesser charges or no charges at all.
The Spokesman-Review contributed to this report.