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Asomugha excels on the field and in classBy Jared GreenDaily Planet StaffIn a game usually filled with trash-talking and bois

By Jared GreenDaily Planet Staff
Thursday October 19, 2000

In a game usually filled with trash-talking and boisterous personalities, Nnamdi Asomugha stands out. Not for his woofing or his antics, because he doesn’t do much of that. Asomugha is known for his quiet leadership, big hits and dependable play from his safety position for the Cal football team. 

After an outstanding game against UCLA last Saturday, in which he returned an interception for a touchdown, made seven tackles and deflected a Bruin pass in the end zone to save the game for the Bears, Asomugha was named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week by the Football Writers Association of America. In addition, he was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week by the conference office. 

Asomugha’s outstanding game not only earned him accolades, but helped the struggling Bears break a four-game losing streak and get back some pride that was lost along the way. 

“He played a very good game, returned an interception for a touchdown, had a bunch of tackles and good hits, and he made a saving play in the end zone,” said Cal head coach Tom Holmoe. “He provided great defensive leadership.” 

Asomugha is one of six Cal players with Nigerian heritage, a group that includes cornerback Chidi Iwuoma and tailback Joe Echema, who is Asomugha’s cousin. The group is known for being a quiet bunch, at least around the general public. 

“Nnamdi’s quiet unless he’s with people he knows,” said Bears tight end Brian Surgener. “He’ll be in the locker room, dancing and joking with us like everyone else.” 

Holmoe said the Nigerian players are different from his other players. 

“I think the Nigerian kids have an emotional side to them, but they also have a very quiet, reflective side,” Holmoe said. “I know that they learn a lot from their parents about who they are and who they should be.” 

Asomugha’s parents raised him in Los Angeles, where he attended three different high schools. His mother, Lilian, is a pharmacist who runs her own company, and education was her first priority for her children. 

“I was raised with academics being number one from day one,” Asomugha said. “Sports weren’t really important, just something to keep us active. Being from L.A., it was something to keep us away from all the bad things going on.” 

But despite the emphasis on school, Nnamdi and his older brother, Chijioke, who plays football for Stanford, shone on the football field. Nnamdi was one of the nation’s most highly-recruited players in 1999, with several teams wanting him to play wide receiver and others wanting him as a defensive back. He says he knew he wanted to play defense in college, and only visited the schools that wanted him as a safety. 

“To me, football is all about defense,” he says. “The defense really intiates the contact, which is what I like. I like hitting people.” 

Asomugha chose Cal over such football powers as Michigan, UCLA and Notre Dame. And it’s no coincidence that all of his visits were to schools with good academic reputations. 

“My mom had separate piles of recruiting letters, one for good academic schools. It was pretty obvious which pile she wanted me to pick from,” he says. 

It didn’t hurt Cal that Chijioke, also a defensive back, was already enrolled at rival Stanford. 

“We didn’t want to go to the same school, we wanted to play against each other,” Asomugha says. “There’s always some trash talk between us on the phone.” 

A sophomore, Asomugha graduated from Norbonne High School with a 3.7 GPA and plans to major in business at Cal. 

Asomugha played mostly on special teams his freshman year, learning the intricacies of the safety position in practice, before breaking his ankle against USC and sitting out the remainder of the season. 

“He was an offensive player, and it’s a tough transition to go from being an athlete in high school to a full-time defensive player,” Holmoe said. “At first he was a little slow, but he came on pretty strong and showed the potential to be a really good player when he got hurt. It was a pretty bad injury.” 

Asomugha spent the rest of the season and most of spring practice rehabilitating his ankle, and he came into this season as a favorite to win the safety spot. But he was still favoring the ankle during fall practice, and ended up sharing time for the first two games. But he has come on to lead the team in tackles with 47 and quietly become a leader in the secondary. 

“UCLA was his best game of the year, not necessarily in stats but in effort and heart,” Holmoe said. “He’s set a standard for himself. That’s the ballpark where he’s got to be every game.”