HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — One of the most menacing defensive tackles in Los Angeles is also the happiest. At 6-foot-3 and a chiseled 270 pounds, Owamagbe Odighizuwa bounded around the UCLA practice field all spring with seemingly endless energy.
After a year away from the game with multiple hip surgeries, Odighizuwa’s love for the game and his team has been renewed.
"Having it taken away for a year because of injury I think will crystallize how much he loves this game," head coach Jim Mora said Thursday at Pac-12 Media Days from Hollywood’s Paramount Studios. "You see him this offseason, he’s just different. He’s happy, smiling more. He’s engaged. He works his tail off."
Odighizuwa, a redshirt-senior, competed with Cassius Marsh for a starting spot on the end of the defensive line for most of his career until he was ruled out last spring with a hip injury. Marsh went on to fill that position last season while Odighizuwa rehabbed and was a key member of the Bruins’ defense. But with the departure of Marsh, the spot on the end is Odighizuwa’s to lose, and anyone who saw him play in the spring says he’s ready.
"Have you seen him? He looks like a brick wall," said linebacker Eric Kendricks. "He’s going to make a huge impact on the team this year and you guys will start writing about him soon."
In the final five games of the 2012 season, Odighizuwa was a monster. He registered six tackles at Arizona State, came up with a huge fumble recovery against USC and had seven tackles and a sack assist in the Pac-12 Championship game at Stanford. He promised even bigger contributions in the spring and his teammates backed up his claim.
But it used to be all about football. An intense competitor, Odighizuwa was always popular amongst his teammates but there was some clear distance between him and others.
"He’s one of those guys that is the first in the locker room and the first in the film room every day and the last to leave," Kendricks said. "I know how an injury feels and how much he missed it last season and I could see the hurt in his eyes.
While rehabbing, he went and worked with some of the younger defensive tackles. Around his team in a far different setting, he created bonds he never had before.
"Owa in the past has sometimes a little bit of a loner," Mora said. "Now he’s around his teammates all the time."
Now healthier and happier than ever, the Bruins are promising the most impactful season ever from their big tackle.
"I hope it’s reflected in the way he plays," Mora said. "He always plays with a lot of energy. Hopefully he lets it go and has a great year."