Having spent the previous three years playing football at Southern Methodist University, Mikial Onu had a feeling this was going to be a good year for the Mustangs.
“We had a lot of returners, we had a great coaching staff, great players – draft pick kind of guys – and a schedule that was kind of favorable,” Onu said. “I saw it coming; everybody saw it coming.”
Despite being a veteran starter for the Mustangs, Onu knew he needed to make a change for himself. Over the summer he left SMU and transferred to Colorado.
With two games left, the senior safety has no regrets about playing for the Buffaloes (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) instead of at SMU, which has been one of the nation’s great stories at 9-1 and ranked 21st nationally. It’s the first time since 1985 that SMU has been ranked.
“I feel great for those guys, but I’m glad I’m here and I’m glad I’m not there, simply because this is home,” Onu, who played in 36 games with 20 starts at SMU, said last week. “Me leaving there was not a, ‘They’re bad and they’re going to be bad (situation);’ I knew they were going to be a good team.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m happy for them, but happy where I am.”
Although the victories haven’t come as often as Onu and the Buffs would have liked this season, it’s been a life-changing transition for him. When he announced his decision to come to CU over the summer, Onu told Buffzone that he simply needed a fresh start.
He has found it.
“If I could make (the choice) again, I would,” he said. “Two things: First, my development as a player. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a leader, as well.”
CU severely lacked depth and experience at safety, which is what led to head coach Mel Tucker’s interest in bringing Onu to the Buffs.
Starting all 10 games at free safety, Onu leads the team in interceptions (four), is second in tackles (62) and ranks third in pass breakups (five). More importantly, he’s been a steadying influence in the back of the defense.
“I was put into a (leadership) situation I’m normally not comfortable with, but I had to adjust and that’s good for me,” Onu said. “In football and life, I need to be able to be a leader, be a vocal leader, be able to show young guys the right way to do things, accountability and stuff like that.”
His second reason for enjoying the change is the team itself – the players and the coaches.
“I’ve met some brothers here that I never thought I would, being here for such a short time,” he said. “There are memories I’ll always remember.”
Near the top of the list is the Buffs’ 16-13 victory against Stanford on Nov. 9 to snap a five-game losing streak.
“There’s no better feeling than that last game against Stanford; coming out with that win, that was huge for us,” he said. “That’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. I’d never been on a five-game losing streak, ever. To come back from that and battle, those are memories you’ll always remember.”
Following the win against the Cardinal, Onu posted on Twitter that Tucker is “the best coach in the nation” and said, “it’s a different feeling going out there and playing for him!”
As a competitor, Onu would love to be on a team with a 9-1 record, but he found a better situation with a team that needs to win its last two games – including the finale at No. 7 Utah – just to reach a bowl game.
“The biggest thing with me transferring was I just wanted to be happy again,” he said.”I kind of fell out of love with football, and I’ll always forever be grateful to CU because they’ve helped me find my love for the game again. Whether this is the last chapter for me or I have 15 years in the NFL, I’ll always come back to this year, this season and be like, ‘This is where I got my love back.’
“There’s no hard feeling with SMU; they didn’t do anything wrong. Sometimes a home changes, so I’m glad I made this my home and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
CU’s home finale against Washington on Saturday has been slated for an 8 p.m. kickoff time at Folsom Field. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
CU opponent glance
Opponent: Washington Huskies
Game time: Saturday, 8 p.m. MT at Folsom Field in Boulder
Coach: Chris Petersen, 6th year (53-25; 145-37 career)
Record: 6-4, 3-4 Pac-12
Last week: Bye; Won at Oregon State, 19-7, on Nov. 8.
Notable: With Oregon having clinched the North division title, this season ends a three-year run of Washington finishing in at least a tie for first. … The Huskies won the Pac-12 title last year and in 2016. … This is Washington’s first four-loss regular season since 2015, when it finished 7-6 overall. … Despite some struggles this year, Washington is 3-1 on the road. … The Huskies rank third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (allowing 21.2 points per game) and fourth in scoring offense (33.3). … Junior running back Salvon Ahmed ranks third in the Pac-12 with 98.4 rushing yards per game. … Since Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffs are 0-7 against the Huskies. Washington has won the last nine meetings overall, dating back to CU’s 33-21 victory in the 1996 Holiday Bowl.