An offensive lineman’s worst nightmare is encountering a defensive lineman that’s the toughest player on the field. The game of football is won and lost in the trenches, and having a player like Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike on your side improves your chances of coming out on top.
One of the toughest and most disruptive defensive line prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, Onwuzurike recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his nonstop playing style, his path to the draft, what he loves most about playing the game of football, and what kind of player he’ll be at the next level.
JM: You’ve been preparing for the draft at EXOS in San Diego. How’s the process going for you so far?
LO: It’s been going smoothly. It’s been a good process for me so far. Coach Roy Holmes II, physical therapist Christina Sterling and everybody else out here is elite at what they do. I’ve really enjoyed my time here.
JM: That’s great. You’ve been documenting the process through your own YouTube channel. That must be fun.
LO: I’m having fun with that. I enjoy doing it. I’ve enjoyed working on it alongside my team. It’s giving me a chance to show people what we’re doing during this process. A lot of people don’t get a peek into what we’re doing, so that’s the purpose behind the series. We want to help people understand what this transition is like. From combine training to an actual offseason, we’re trying to document it all.
JM: I’ve kept up with the series and it’s very enjoyable. I want to talk about your attributes as a player. What can you tell me about the scheme that Washington ran on defense and what your coaches asked of you?
LO: We ran a base 4-3 defense. It was all about getting off the ball for us. Get off the ball and use your hands, hips, and feet as coach [Ikaika] Malloe always says.
Our philosophy revolved around trying to push every offensive lineman one yard back at the line of scrimmage and everything else will take care of itself from there.
JM: What’s your favorite part of playing on the defensive line?
LO: I really like just exploding out of my stance and f***ing somebody up.
JM: That’s amazing (laughs). I’ve interviewed more than 500 draft prospects over the past few years and I think that’s the first time a player has ever used the word “f**k” in an interview. I’m not mad about it.
LO: I’m just trying to be honest with you, man (laughs).
JM: When I turn the tape on, you play with exceptional leverage as a run defender. That’s one that jumps out at me about your game. Where did you learn to play the run that way?
LO: For me, it all starts with your hands. It goes back to what I said about coach Milloe. He taught us that it’s all about hands, hips, and feet. I always tried to get my hands on my man before he got his hands on me. Once you do that, you control the play. You win the rep if you get your hands on him first. I’m constantly working on shooting my hands forward. You have to play with fast hands.
JM: That’s a terrific answer. On the flip side, my evaluation of you as a pass rusher tells me that you play with excellent quickness.
LO: That comes from just working on my pass-rush moves over the years. I’m naturally a very quick guy. I’ve constantly worked on my upside as a pass rusher with guys like DQ [DeQuin Evans], who’s our pass-rush trainer up in Washington. Coach Milloe has also taught me some terrific things as a pass rusher. I haven’t reached my full potential as a pass rusher yet.
JM: What can you tell me about your pass rush arsenal?
LO: I feel like I have everything in my bag. I have a lot of moves I haven’t even shown yet. My No. 1 go-to move is a push-pull or a bull pull.
JM: And how do you typically counter if those moves aren’t working for you?
LO: If those aren’t working, I start to show off my body quickness. I’ll work something quick inside or work a freeze move. I’ll do what I have to do to set you up and get an offensive lineman to lean so that I can go the opposite way.
JM: How do you approach your rush plan pre-snap? What goes into that decision-making process for you?
LO: I think it’s best to go in with an exact move that you’re going to do. It clears your mind and allows you to see things straight. I go in with a clear move. Based on what the offensive linemen does, I already have two counters ready for it. That’s how I see it.
JM: You strike me as an incredibly tough player and I know you’re not going to disagree.
LO: It goes back to what I said before. I like f***ing people up. I like embarrassing people on the field. I like talking s**t too (laughs). I find it a lot of fun to dominate another person. I love doing that on every single play.
JM: Are you a big trash talker?
LO: I wouldn’t say I’m a s**t talker, but I will get you off your game on the field.
JM: You must really love demoralizing offensive linemen, don’t you?
LO: That’s a good question. I’ll tell him where I’m going and exactly what I’m about to do. I’ll do it and he still can't stop it. They’ll be like, “Yeah, sure, you’re not gonna do that.” They think I’m bluffing. I’ll do it and beat them anyway. I’m telling you, that f***s up their brain, bro. It messes with their mindset.
I’m really just saying that I can tell them exactly what I’m about to do, but I’m better than you so you’re not going to stop it anyway. That’s how I like to mess with their mind.
JM: That’s excellent (laughs). COVID-19 has impacted the predraft process. Have you met with a lot of teams via Zoom lately?
LO: I was at the Senior Bowl so I met with every team there in person. We were lucky enough to get some in-person time down there while following all of the protocols. I did all of my interviews in-person with the scouts.
I have a few virtual meetings coming up, but that process is starting a little later for the guys who were fortunate enough to go down to the Senior Bowl. I have one with the Saints coming up. The teams are comfortable with their opinion of me because we got to spend that time together at the Senior Bowl. The guys who didn’t go to the Senior Bowl, those are the ones who are meeting with teams virtually right now.
JM: That makes sense. What was the experience like at the Senior Bowl?
LO: It was a great experience. I loved it. Being able to interact with all of the players there, to talk about how we all approach the game, it was great. Of course, getting the chance to speak with all 32 teams was also amazing. I had a lot of great interviews with the teams. I have a good understanding of how they view me as a prospect.
JM: What do you feel is the overall impression you left on all 32 teams?
LO: I think they saw that I’m still an explosive player. I’m an elite pass rusher. From the few practice reps that I had out there, I think I left a great impression. I’m an elite run defender. I’m also a smart player.
JM: Who were some of the best offensive linemen you enjoyed doing battle with down there?
LO: I liked Quinn Meinerz. He was a D-III kid. He’s from somewhere called Wisconsin-Whitewater I think (laughs). He has my full respect. He has a lot of quickness. He’s a D-I guy that was playing D-III. That was my impression of him.
JM: He’s getting a lot of buzz right now. I feel like there’s something in the water down there in Washington. I interviewed Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor Jr. recently. It seems like The University of Washington sends a bunch of great defensive prospects to the NFL draft every year. There’s a bunch of you guys this year. What’s it like playing for coach Jimmy Lake?
LO: I really enjoyed playing for Jimmy Lake. He and coach K are defensive masterminds. Playing on their defense was easy. We always had success on that side of the ball. I’m excited for coach Jimmy Lake to have this opportunity as a head coach. He deserves that.
JM: Absolutely he does. I’ve really appreciated your time today. This has been excellent. You’re a tough, skilled player with a lot of personality and I have no doubt that you’re going to be very successful in the NFL. In closing, what kind of impact is Levi Onwuzurike going to make at the next level?
LO: Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s what I’m striving for.