Levi Onwuzurike is not yet a YouTube sensation.
But he’d settle for being a first-round pick.
The 6-foot-3, 293-pound defensive lineman — who opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL draft — departed UW with 95 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 39 career games. The former four-star recruit from Allen, Texas, was a 2019 first-team All-Pac-12 performer, and might be the first defensive tackle off the board in April.
But none of that made it any easier to leave.
“I felt like I was ready to go, for sure,” he said Thursday. “I felt like I was a well-rounded player, and I did what I had to do.
“It was for sure a difficult decision, because you never want to leave the guys in the locker room. The time we spent with each other was just amazing. I made lifetime memories with those boys. I have lifelong friendships with those boys. So it was for sure a hard decision. But with COVID and the future not being certain with the Pac-12 season, I kind of just decided to get out from there.”
While he left Washington, his attention didn’t waver. For the first time in five years, Onwuzurike watched a UW football season from the sidelines.
“It was for sure weird,” he said. “I felt the transition from player to fan. I never truly liked any sports teams (growing up). I never had a college team. I never had an NFL team. But I could tell, the Huskies are my team. I felt like I was a fan …”
Soon, Onwuzurike will have an NFL team as well. In ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft on Feb. 9, he projected Onwuzurike to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 25th overall pick — saying the Husky alum “is a disruptive 3-technique with lots of quickness up the middle.”
NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter pegged the New Orleans Saints to snag Onwuzurike at No. 28 overall.
“Sheldon Rankins, the Saints’ first-round pick five years ago, could be replaced by another if the veteran finds greener pastures elsewhere in free agency,” Reuter wrote. “Onwuzurike’s clearly the top 3-technique tackle in this draft.”
He’ll likely see some familiar faces flying off the board. Besides Onwuzurike, three other UW defenders — outside linebacker Joe Tryon and defensive backs Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor — could conceivably be selected in the first two rounds.
“That’s huge,” Onwuzurike said. “We all worked for it. It’s not a surprise to anybody. That’s kind of how the Husky defense is. We just have dawgs on the field.”
According to Onwuzurike, he’s more of a dawg now than when Washington football fans last saw him. The dominant defensive tackle — who has been working at EXOS in Westlake Village, California. — said “I just feel stronger and faster, for sure. My explosiveness went up a lot. I’m hella ready to play. I’m eager to play.”
He’s also eager to showcase his path to the draft — and in January, he launched a YouTube channel to do just that.
“I used to watch the ‘Path to the Draft’ (videos) from EXOS growing up,” he said. “So for me, I just wanted to put out content. I know a lot of people want to see what we do throughout the day, and we do a lot of stuff throughout the day. So I wanted to give people that side of it.
“And for myself too, documenting my life, it’s like taking a picture or taking a video. It’s always going to be there on YouTube for me to look back at how hard I worked to get where I am.”
On YouTube, Onwuzurike documents his days — the 6 a.m. wake-up calls, the 7:30 a.m. speed or lateral workouts, the 10 a.m. position drills, the afternoon lifts, the daily improvement that defines his pre-draft process. He says that vlogging — video blogging — “has turned into my hobby now. I really enjoy doing it. I like all the computer editing, all the photography, all the videography. So it’s kind of a hobby I grew into, really.”
Onwuzurike is still growing into a lot of things, as are the UW defensive linemen entrusted with preserving his legacy. In the trenches, the torch has been passed from Danny Shelton, to Vita Vea, to Greg Gaines, to Onwuzurike.
Now, it’s up to another Husky — say, juniors Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam “Taki” Taimani, or sophomores Faatui Tuitele and Jacob Bandes, among others — to take it. And judging by last season — when Washington ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (161.25 yards allowed per game), seventh in opponent yards per carry (4.54) and 11th in tackles for loss per game (4.25) — there’s more work to do.
“I think they’ll be great,” Onwuzurike said. “I think their work ethic will be great, and work ethic leads to playing great on the field. We left them with a good taste of that legacy. I think they’re going to take over, for sure.”
Of course, Rip Rowan — a former UW quality control coach — took over the UW defensive line room this offseason, after defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski departed for Texas and co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe shifted his focus to the outside linebackers.
And Onwuzurike said that “I think everybody on the d-line loves Rip. I think it was well deserved. He knows our defense in and out. He was alongside coach Malloe. We could go to coach Malloe’s room to watch film, or we could go to Rip’s room to watch film. It was kind of equal opportunity there. So I think it’s well deserved, for sure.”
Likewise, Onwuzurike deserves to hear his name in the NFL draft — and you better believe he’ll be documenting his life until he does. But, when it comes to his YouTube transition, did Onwuzurike take any tips from former UW hooper and current Philadelphia 76er Matisse Thybulle — who has 395,000 subscribers (and counting)?
“I haven’t even seen that, to be honest,” Onwuzurike said with a laugh. “I need to check that out.”