BY DENNIS SILVA II | DENSILVA2@GMAIL.COM
Cinco Ranch junior offensive lineman Ethan Onianwa recently verbally committed to Rice. It was somewhat of a surprise, considering Onianwa only has 10 games of varsity football under his belt and his recruiting process was stunted by restrictions due to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
“The current coronavirus outbreak affected my recruiting experience a lot,” Onianwa said. “Due to the current epidemic, I wasn’t able to visit colleges and have coaches come to our spring practices. It most definitely made it harder to learn about programs from the players and coaches there.”
COVID-19 prevented college coaches from going on the road to recruit and closed campuses, which disallowed visits by recruits. It also canceled spring football, a time of the year when college coaches can visit high school campuses to watch practices and talk to high school coaches about players.
Still, Onianwa was able to secure his future in a sport he only started taking seriously in middle school, in large part because he’s a tantalizing physical prospect. Onianwa stands 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds. He’s also only 16 years old.
“From a maturity standpoint, he’s going to keep growing,” Cinco Ranch coach Chris Dudley said. “From a bodyweight standpoint, he’s sitting at 300 right now, but I’ve been telling colleges you can put another 20-30 pounds on that kid if they want and he’d still look real good.”
Onianwa picked Rice over SMU and Vanderbilt. In all, he had 12 offers. He had virtual meetings via Zoom or Facetime with all the schools. But Rice had an edge in that Onianwa established a relationship with coaches ever since he began visiting their practices on unofficial visits the summer before his sophomore year.
“Rice has great academics, and with (offensive line coach) Sanders Davis and (head coach) Mike Bloomgren, I feel it will be a great place for me to improve as a lineman,” Onianwa said. “It’s also close to home, which my parents love. Coach Davis said that I have a lot of potential as an offensive tackle for their offense, and if I go to Rice, I would see myself continue to grow physically and to understand the game better.”
Onianwa was born in Michigan, but his family moved and lived in Nigeria until he was 5 years old. He then lived in southwest Houston until he was 10, when he moved to Katy.
Seeing his parents’ persistence in finding the best opportunities for their children is something Onianwa does not take for granted. Onianwa is the eldest of four children.
“I am glad that I got to see my parents move to America, because I got to see the hard work and determination my parents put in so my three siblings and I can have great futures,” he said. “My parents really inspired me to be the best version of myself, and I feel that if I grow content and happy with who I am right now, I will disrespect the long days of hard work my parents put in and will never reach my full potential.”
Onianwa takes coaching well and is well-respected by teammates because of how he treats people. He’s a leader by example in how he is consistent in his approach and attitude to practices, games and offseason work.
“He comes from a very good family and he’s been raised the right way,” Dudley said. “That’s the first thing that jumps out about him.”
Dudley was an assistant coach for Cinco Ranch when Onianwa was a freshman.
“He was a big kid,” Dudley said. “It’s hard to project kids that young, but he had the size, for sure. That’s the first thing colleges look at—does the kid fit the prototype in terms of height and weight. For me, just because of that, I knew he’d get a lot of looks. I just wasn’t sure at what level that would be. As the recruiting season started towards the end of this football season, he wasn’t really on a lot of people’s radars.”
Onianwa was a junior varsity player as a sophomore and started at right guard for an 0-10 Cinco Ranch team this past season. Dudley said most schools “didn’t figure him out until December, January and February.”
“It was just your classic case of a snowball effect,” Dudley said. “Once one or two schools are interested, more and more did. He got that first offer from Texas Southern and that’s when things started rolling.”
SMU and Rice called early. Onianwa started to hear from Pac-12 schools. Baylor and Texas A&M also showed interest.
“By the end of my junior year, I had realized that I was going to have to getter faster and stronger if I wanted to compete at the varsity level,” Onianwa said. “I tried to work out every day and condition myself. I saw improvements in my strength and speed, but I know that I can continue to improve every day, even though I can’t lift currently. I also realized that I really need to work on my fundamentals; by looking at film, I had realized that I really needed to work on my hand placement, footwork, and pass protection, if I want do my job the most efficiently.”
The physical tools were always apparent. Along with the size, Onianwa has an impressive wingspan and is light on his feet. He is considerably athletic for his size.
“He did well this year for us,” Dudley said. “We struggled this season in a lot of ways, so to the naked eye you probably couldn’t notice it. But to us coaches, we could see he was doing things that were improving. He really took it to the next level in terms of his knowledge of the game and understanding how to be physical and using his athleticism. He gained confidence as the year went on in that he was never really overwhelmed. That can get lost when you look at the scores of the games, but we knew he was developing and really taking that next step as a football player.”