At some point, Mikial Onu is going to pay close attention to where he ranks on the Colorado depth chart.
The first couple of weeks of preseason camp is not the time, though.
A graduate transfer from SMU, Onu has enough on his plate just trying to get acclimated to CU and the defense.
“I don’t want anything given to me,” the senior safety said. “If I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not going to start. My focus is not ones, twos, threes – there is no depth chart. Everyone is just competing. My focus is on just simply getting into the playbook, getting reps.”
A late addition to the roster this summer, Onu was brought in by head coach Mel Tucker and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers to provide experience, depth and leadership at a position that was lacking in all departments.
Onu, who is 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, played in 36 games, with 20 starts, at SMU. He was the Mustangs’ leading tackler in 2017, with 105 stops. Last season, he had 59 tackles in seven starts.
He wanted a fresh start, however, and jumped at the chance to join the Buffs. Despite leaving Texas for the first time, Onu said it’s been a good move.
“It’s a transition environmentally and mentally, with me coming in later than a lot of the guys,” he said. “I’m picking it up, but I have to get going and learn it fast. It’s been a transition for me, but I’m picking up and I’m enjoying it so far.”
While the Buffs lack experience at safety, there is intense competition for starting spots.
Onu is the lone senior of the group and he’s got, by far, the most game experience. However, juniors Aaron Maddox, Derrion Rakestraw and Trey Udoffia are in the mix, as well as sophomore Isaiah Lewis and true freshman Mark Perry.
“There’s a lot of competition in that room, period,” said Summers, who coaches the safeties.
Summers said Rakestraw probably has the best understanding of the defense, while Maddox has flashed his explosive, aggressive play-making skills. Lewis and Perry have flashed, as well.
Onu, meanwhile, was playing a little catch-up in the early going of camp.
“Right now things are kind of swimming, but I’m picking it up,” he said. “Honestly, I’m really further along than I thought I would be. I’m really getting a good feel for the play book.”
For Onu, having to learn a new defense is a different feeling, but one that he likes.
“I’m used to being the guy who knows everything and people look to me for questions,” he said. “Now it’s a humbling experience to come back and ask questions. I love football and getting more knowledge of football is huge for me. I’m really enjoying being a newcomer and working with coach Summers, coach Tucker – defensive gurus. From that aspect, I’m really enjoying learning more about football.”
While Onu is still learning the intricacies of the CU playbook, he has live game reps that give him an advantage.
“Mikail is an experienced guy,” Summers said. “Really, really, really smart. He understands concepts and has been a three-year starter at SMU and he brings that amount of mental fortitude and mental maturity and grit.”
Onu also brings physicality – something that Tucker is trying to make a standard in the program.
“I feel like that’s one of the strongest points of my game,” Onu said. “I enjoy contact. They preach relentless, they preach physicality. That’s one part of my game I think really translates (from SMU).”
Eventually, Onu is hoping his entire game will translate and lead him to becoming a key player for the Buffs. For now, however, he’s patient with the process.
“As I get a better feel and get better acclimated, I’ll be more of a leader to the guys, but right now I’m trying to focus more on picking it up,” he said.