Updated: March 7, 2014 at 8:14 pm
Nelson Onwuzu admits that his sudden emergence for Air Force has been aided by a foreign substance. Not PED's, mind you, but PB&Js.
The slight-built Onwuzu spent his first two seasons for the Falcons trying to grow out of a 150-pound frame that precluded him from become a serious candidate for a wide receiver position.
"I eat whenever I can, whenever I think about it," Onwuzu said. "It's tough, especially because I have a high metabolism. I eat when I wake up, before I go to sleep, just eat. Usually peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
Onwuzu now weighs about 175 pounds. He's still skinny, but he's got the size to compete; and that's what has Air Force coaches have noticed.
"He's had moments this spring where he's made plays on contested balls," coach Troy Calhoun said.
In the Falcons' dismal 2-10 season in 2013, the recurring theme was a dearth of competitors. In the wake of that, anyone showing that extra bit of drive is bound to be noticed.
And sure enough, No.?84 kept making big plays for the second and third teams in scrimmage situations. Just like that, he found himself running with the first team.
When this coaching staff says positions are wide open, you just have to look at Onwuzu to know they mean it.
"What you realize more than anything else is that you earn playing time," Calhoun said. "You earn roles. Shane Davern's another good example at fullback. He's a guy who's earned playing time. Guys who are dependable, durable, can make some plays and are assignment sound, they earn chances to participate and play more."
Air Force returns 11 of the 12 players who caught passes last season, but Onwuzu isn't on that list. His sophomore season was spent fighting for a spot on the travel roster.
To fast-forward just four months and find him in the hunt for a starting position, well, it's not something even he saw coming.
"This spring is going really good," he said, "better than I thought it would ever go."
This hasn't happened by accident. In addition to gaining size, Onwuzu has added strength. He 4.49 speed, but he has taken his max bench press from 140 to 185 pounds and his power clean from 185 to 245.
"I'm just more comfortable," said the native of Tyler, Texas, who caught 52 passes for 980 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior for a team that went 15-0. "The biggest thing is just getting to know your teammates better, knowing what they can do, knowing what you can do and knowing that if you mess up someone has your back."
There haven't been any shortcuts along the way, not even in the diet department. Onwuzu said he's considered taking protein supplements, but just hasn't found the motivation to do it. Instead, he's sticking with his current plan.
"It's never been easy for me," he said. "But working hard and eating a lot has been working."