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Unlikely diet fuels Washington State’s top defensive lineman this spring

Washington State defensive lineman Nnamdi Oguayo (30) celebrates his tackle with cornerback Darrien Molton (3)  against Nevada in Pullman  on Sept. 23, 2017. (Young Kwak / AP)

PULLMAN – Nnamdi Oguayo and believers of Nnamdi Oguayo still think the fourth-year Washington State defensive end is storing plenty of untapped potential underneath those broad shoulders and chiseled biceps.

It’s easy to see why – especially on the surface. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the redshirt junior was introduced to his first dumbbell at age 5.

Oguayo could forfeit a year of weight training and his physical makeup would still be a thing of envy among WSU’s fittest athletes. He wouldn’t look out of place at a bodybuilder’s convention.

But after a redshirt sophomore season that wasn’t nearly as productive as he would’ve liked – and far more injury-laden – Oguayo determined that of all things, his sturdy figure is what still needed the most work.

“(I’ve) tried to get bigger. I’ve been gaining weight and getting faster,” Oguayo said Thursday at the conclusion of the Cougars’ fourth spring practice. “That’s my main goal.”

To get there, Oguayo is drastically increasing his overall food intake – “Eat everything I can, doesn’t matter what it is,” he said – and maintaining his temple the same way anyone else might.

“For the past 2 1/2 weeks I’ve had McDonald’s every day,” Oguayo said, no hint of exaggeration in his delivery.

That’s right, the Golden Arches are what’s fueling WSU’s top returning defensive lineman this spring.

Oguayo, who started in six games last season and played in 11, said he’s up 12 pounds from where he was when the Cougars lost to Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl, but nowhere near his end goal.

Instead of relying on a diet of lean meats, green vegetables and healthy starches, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound edge rusher is bulking up by shoveling down some of McDonald’s famous breakfast items.

“Bacon, egg and cheese McGriddle, I have to have three of those,” he said. “And hot cakes, two hash browns and a vanilla milkshake.”

Oguayo feared that packing on pounds would cause him to lose his step, when in fact, it’s had the opposite effect. He’s worked closely with WSU’s new director of strength and conditioning, Tyson Brown, to train agility and speed, and it shows when the Cougars break into their daily O-line vs. D-line period – a drill that tasks a single defensive lineman to get past a single offensive lineman to capture a folded towel that rests where the quarterback would.

All-American defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa used to dominate the drill. Oguayo’s often the one going unchallenged these days.

“If anything, I’m getting faster,” he said. “Which is crazy because the more weight you put on, the slower you get, but it’s been the opposite and I’m happy about that.”

An unspecified injury shortened Oguayo’s redshirt sophomore season by two games. It possibly hampered his performance when he was on the field, but the production of WSU’s D-line never tapered and the Cougars still accumulated 37 sacks (tied for third in Pac-12) and 103 tackles for loss (ninth in FBS).

That’s largely because Oguayo was flanked by Mata’afa, who had 10 1/2 of those sacks, and senior nose tackle Daniel Ekuale, who was essential to the group well beyond his statistical output.

Oguayo is on his own this year – Mata’afa left early for the NFL and Ekuale graduated – but that’s also why many believe a breakout season might be on the horizon. He’ll almost certainly have to do more and might finally have the motor to do it.

“He’s starting to get on kind of a roll, we need to keep accelerating that,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “Because I think we’ve just scratched the surface on him, too, because he’s a very talented guy.”

Oguayo did make sure to get some parting advice from Mata’afa before he left.

“He had that built in leverage, so he’s usually low and explosive and that’s what I’m trying to work on,” Oguayo said. “And we used to talk in practice by ourselves and really helped with that.”