The pre-teen Chidobe Awuzie was an ambitious kid, setting goals of playing professional sports and being enshrined in the hall of fame.
Now 21, Awuzie has yet to reach his goals, but he appears to be on the right path.
Arguably the best player on Colorado’s football team, Awuzie is on magazine covers and garnering attention as one of the top defensive backs in the Pac-12 and a potential NFL draft pick in 2017.
“I’m proud of where I am right now,” he said. “What I’m doing right now is cool, but my goals are way higher.
“I never want to look back at that kid, my 12-year-old self, and be like, ‘I failed you.’ “
The drive to be the best is not self-centered, though. With just one season of college football left to play, Awuzie is intensely focused on helping the Buffaloes taste success for the first time in a decade.
CU (4-9 in 2015) has posted 10 consecutive losing seasons, hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2007 and has registered a 10-27 record in Awuzie’s three seasons in Boulder.
“I feel we’ve always had the hunger,” said Awuzie, who grew up in San Jose, Calif. “That’s what made it hurt so much. We’ve really just been hungry the whole time and knowing what it takes, it’s just that little extra effort of team bonding and working out on the side and doing the little things, really.
“I don’t think we had a losing team or a losing mindset; it’s just those little things to be winners, because winning is hard. It just takes that little extra effort to get those wins in the fall.”
Awuzie is one of the unquestioned leaders of the team and he’s doing all he can to make sure the Buffs get some wins this season. He said the culture has changed since his arrival, a sentiment echoed by several others in Awuzie’s class.
“When I first came here, I’m not going to diss anybody that used to come here, but I don’t remember a lot of people getting extra work on the weekends or extra work throughout the days,” he said. “I just feel like that’s kind of part of our culture now. A lot of people go out of their way to work out and get extra work and extra film.”
Work is what has lifted Awuzie to where he is today. He was always talented, but it’s everything outside that talent that makes him special.
“His work ethic, both in film study work ethic and his on-the-field work ethic – off season, in season, practice preparation – help him come beyond the skill part,” said CU safeties coach Joe Tumpkin. “His skill set shows with what he does, but those other things really help him take that (next step).”
Tumpkin, who came to CU last year, said he was immediately impressed with Awuzie’s intelligence, football knowledge and ability to communicate well with coaches. Those traits have helped Awuzie become a leader for younger defensive backs, such as Afolabi Laguda and Nick Fisher, who have both credited Awuzie for helping them improve.
Individually, there was nobody better in a CU uniform last year. Playing mostly at nickelback, Awuzie had the freedom to make plays all over the field, and he did just that. He was second on the team in tackles (90) and pass breakups (10), led the team with nine tackles for loss, registered four quarterback sacks and picked off two passes — one of which secured CU’s only Pac-12 victory, at Oregon State.
“As I was doing it, it seemed like nothing special,” he said, “but when I looked back on it, it was definitely a fun position to play, just being able to free roam and go from the box to the outside and be able to make plays. That was real fun.”
This season, Awuzie might stay in that role, or he might go outside to cornerback. Either way, he’s prepared to do what he’s asked. He’s not seeking individual accolades; just victories.
“It’s whatever the team needs to be successful,” he said.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.