Sophomore offers guidance to Texas A&M youth movement
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2013 23:09
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin opened his segment of the Aggies’ weekly press conference Tuesday morning with one interesting number — 17, or the number of true freshmen A&M has used during its first two weeks of the season.
Due mainly to suspensions, A&M’s defense has been forced to fill its starting lineup with the majority of that sum, and recent lackluster performances against Rice and Sam Houston State have given light to the impact of the infused-youth.
In steps sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha, a veteran of last season’s breakout squad, and suddenly that number isn’t
A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said Obioha’s experience from last year has played a crucial role in his development into a leader over the course of the offseason, a factor the defensive coaching staff has recognized as key to their entire front-seven’s success.
“He’s not a young guy anymore. He started 12 games last year,” Snyder said of Obioha. “He’s been on the biggest stages in some of the biggest games, so he can’t be a youngster anymore. We’re young enough. He has to be a guy for us and take over that [leadership] role a little bit.”
While working through an injury that benched him from the Cotton Bowl through spring training, Obioha has developed a coaching repertoire the defensive staff recognized will be critical to the unit’s success throughout the upcoming season.
“He will be able to anticipate, I think, what’s getting ready to come into the game from me to [the defense] and articulate [the call], if you will, to all these youngsters we’ve got playing beside him,”
With the exodus of many of last season’s defensive leaders — including Jonathan Stewart, Sean Porter, Spencer Nealy and Damontre Moore — the void has yet to be filled by any singular veteran. Instead, a conglomerate has emerged, one Obioha identified as a positive for the youthful unit.
“We attack this as a group,” Obioha said. “There is no really prominent leader on the defense right now, [but rather] there are multiple leaders. Whether it’s a sophomore who played last year or a senior who’s been playing for three years, we attack this [season] as a group.”
As the defensive line’s only returning starter due to Moore’s early departure to the NFL, Obioha jumped into the unit’s most vaunted position — pass rusher. With his position change over the offseason, the sophomore has been forced to compete with the legacy left by his past two All-American predecessors: Moore, the recently signed New York Giant, and Von Miller, a distinguished Denver Bronco.
Despite the large shoes Obioha has been asked to fill, he has adjusted to the position, noting he has no intention to try and “replace All-Americans.”
“Obviously before me, there have been two All-Americans that played in my spot, and as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not trying to replace All-Americans,” Obioha said. “I’m just trying to help my team win football games. If I can get All-American status while doing that, that’d be great, but that’s not really what I’m trying to do.”
As one of the few freshman starters for the Aggies last season, Obioha found himself learning directly from Moore on a
“Damontre [Moore] was a great playmaker,” Obioha said. “He stressed to me constantly that I needed to try and make plays instead of just doing my job. That’s a role I have tried to develop during this offseason.”
Throughout the offseason, Obioha focused heavily on recovering from his late-season injury, dedicating his spring and summer to reaching, and then surpassing, his playing potential from the previous season.
Defensive line coach Terry Price said Obioha’s immense impact stems from his staggering work ethic and mental approach to the game, one mirrored by the unit’s maxim as a whole.
“To me, [Obioha] is what we live by, [in terms of] our motto as D-linemen,” Price said. “He embodies what we believe as a D-line — play hard every single snap and give it all every single play.”