116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State defensive lineman Enyi Uwazurike hasn’t always put up big statistical numbers.
Before this season, he was in that Ray Lima mold. Lima, a nose guard at Iowa State from 2017-19, never put up big numbers, either, but he was a critical part to Iowa State’s defensive line because he ate up double teams and gave the linebackers free lanes to make the play.
Lima earned either first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors every year he was at Iowa State despite relatively low season-high statistics. The most tackles he ever had in a season was 34 in 2018; the most sacks he had in a season was 0.5 in 2019.
Those numbers are essentially what Uwazurike was putting up. But instead of playing nose guard, Uwazurike played defensive end.
The most tackles Uwazurike has ever had in a season is 32 in 2019. The most sacks was last season with three.
But Uwazurike has gone from an impact player, who was never a big stat guy, to a true difference maker, now putting up big numbers.
The super senior, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 335 pounds, has gone from boundary defensive end only, to all-around defensive lineman. He’s started games at the boundary defensive end spot for the Cyclones this season and he’s also started games at nose guard. And in the middle of games, he’ll slide to where he’s needed.
His size and ability to move around along the line is why head coach Matt Campbell believes Uwazurike is breaking out in his sixth year.
“I think him playing inside and outside is why you’re seeing so much statistical production,” Campbell said. “He’s not always at the same place, and for the last three years, he was always sitting at the boundary defensive end spot. Now, he’s at the three technique, then moving to the boundary end, then he’s in at nose guard and after that he’s the field defensive end.
“We’re moving Enyi all around and for him, it’s a huge benefit because he’s showing his flexibility but it’s also allowing us to create some matchups that can be in our favor.”
Those matchups have proved just that.
Uwazurike already has recorded three sacks, which tied his career high. The three sacks are tied for the third most in the Big 12 and he’s just a half sack off Will McDonald, who led the nation in sacks last season.
Uwazurike also has 14 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three QB hurries and a pass breakup.
He’s made the transition from playing just one position to several as easy as a player could.
“It’s really not too difficult for me,” Uwazurike said. “I’ve been here for forever and I’ve gotten the chance to play every position along the line. It’s something that I’ve learned and grown into, so I’m able to play all of those positions.
“It’s definitely more physical inside. It takes a lot more precision to play on the outside at (defensive) end. You have to think about a lot more things and there’s not too much physicality with that, especially when plays are going away from you. At nose, there’s contact the moment the ball is snapped.”
But Uwazurike is built to handle the physicality. He’s also proved he’s still athletic enough at that size to be a productive defensive end.
“His size and athleticism is what makes Enyi a really unique player and it’s what makes the evolution of him so unique,” Campbell said. “You’re talking about a guy who changed his body from where he was a year ago to where he is today. You’re talking about a guy who has elite length and you’re also talking about a guy who has really added tools to his tool belt.
“He has the ability to pass rush over a guard, pass rush over a center and certainly be able to pass rush over or around a tackle. A lot of credit goes to him to be able to do it at that size. It’s important to note that he’s built himself up. He didn’t come in at 350 and trim down. He started at 280 and he’s grown into what he is now, which is a 335-pound man that’s made a huge impact.”