AMHERST — On his journey to the University at Buffalo’s defensive line, Chibueze Onwuka took a detour through Niagara County.
Onwuka attended Niagara County Community College for one semester in 2016, wrestling 16 matches for the Thunderwolves. A heavyweight Maryland state champion in his senior season at Eleanor Roosevelt, the first in school history, Onwuka arrived at NCCC with the intent to transfer to UB after one year and wrestle under coach John Stutzman, a former regional champion for NCCC.
“I was an undefeated champion in high school, but at the JUCO level it was a big jump in competition,” Onwuka recalled. “I had to wrestle a lot of guys from big-time schools at open tournaments. The practices were harder and the discipline was sturdier.”
As a Baltimore-area all-star in football, Onwuka received scholarship offers to play for Division II colleges and some recruiting interest from D-I FCS programs. During his time at NCCC, Onwuka couldn’t resist to urge to return to the gridiron.
“It was the fall semester so there was a lot of football going on,” he said. “I watched all of UB’s games and was still doing football drills a little bit. It was in the back of my mind and after talking to my family and friends, I decided I wanted to play football again.”
Onwuka transferred to UB in January 2017 and attended an open tryout to join the football team. The 6-foot Onwuka weighed 235 pounds when he competed for NCCC and was an edge rusher in high school. The Bulls coaching staff was impressed with his quick feet and strength and thought he could help on the interior line with added weight on his frame.
“The wrestling background was a big bonus for him,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “His quickness, getting low and using leverage, using his hands and understanding all of the things that go into that. He kept on gaining weight and getting better and better.”
Onwuka played in 11 games and made one start as a freshman, earning a scholarship at the end of the season. He started five games as a sophomore before being slowed down by an ankle injury, finishing with 17 tackles, five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
“The last half of the year was real frustrating for him,” Leipold said. “He just couldn’t get healthy to do what he does best.”
Finally healthy coming out of spring practice and bulked up to 285 pounds, Onquka has started the first three games for a UB defense that has allowed 332.7 yards per game, tops in the Mid-American Conference.
The Bulls (1-2) host Temple (2-0) today (3:30 p.m., ESPNU, 1520 AM). UB is coming off a disappointing 35-17 loss at Liberty, while Temple won 20-17 last week against a Maryland team that was ranked No. 21 in the country.
“We know it’s going to be a physical ball game,” Leipold said. “It was probably our most physical game last year.”
UB won 36-29 last year in Philadelphia on spectacular last-second touchdown by receiver Anthony Johnson.
The Owls are coached by Rod Carey, who coached Northern Illinois in last year’s MAC championship game victory over UB.