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Nnamdi Oguayo responds to challenge from Washington State’s defensive coaches

Washington State  running back James Williams (32) runs the ball against  defensive lineman Nnamdi Oguayo  during a spring practice on April 5 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State running back James Williams (32) runs the ball against defensive lineman Nnamdi Oguayo during a spring practice on April 5 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State coaches tried a new strategy for pushing Nnamdi Oguayo to new heights – they demoted him.

Earlier in the spring, Oguayo was shoved down to third-team defensive line, a move that took him and the rest of the team by surprise.

“When I saw my name third, something’s got to be off,” he said. “… I’m not going to lie to you, I felt disrespected at first because I thought I contributed a lot to the team.”

Oguayo has been one of WSU’s more productive defensive linemen throughout the last two seasons. In 2017, Oguayo started on the defensive line in six games and appeared in 11. He made 34 tackles, including four sacks.

In his first active season in 2016, Oguayo recorded 39 tackles, including four sacks, and led the team with nine special-teams tackles. He had one of his best performances against Arizona, finishing with a season-high five tackles and three sacks.

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said on Saturday that the decision to demote Oguayo wasn’t a tool for motivation.

“It wasn’t planned,” Claeys said. “It’s more of a position chart it’s not really a depth chart, so we repped three groups a long time. But as you rep three groups, the ones who get better obviously get more. It’s whoever is productive and he definitely has improved his production quite a bit.”

But on Thursday, defensive line coach Jeff Phelps admitted there was some thought put into the demotion. Phelps said he wanted to see how Oguayo would react to being shoved to the third line on the depth chart and if it would provide any kind of push through the spring.

“He’s at the top of his game and we’d like for him to understand that being at the top of your game doesn’t mean that you can slow down. You have to find a new ceiling. You have got to keep climbing,” Phelps said. “I knew he was hungry to get to that slot, I know he’s a competitor, I know he can handle it. And we wanted to see how he would respond and he responded very well.”

In Saturday’s Crimson and Gray scrimmage game, Oguayo was back on the first-team defense, helping Crimson’s pass rush to three tackles and a “tap sack.” He said his rise back up in the depth chart has served as motivation to keep pushing himself heading into the upcoming season.

“I appreciate what I have a little bit more,” he said. “My job could be gone any day.”

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