With the loss of cornerback John Reid to a potentially season-ending injury, many fans are wondering who will step up to replace arguably the team’s top defensive back. Why not the player with the only interception return for a touchdown, Amani Oruwariye?
The redshirt junior corner was a three-star recruit and a Top-100 player in Florida coming out of Gaither High School in Tampa. Oruwariye blocked seven kicks in his last two seasons and totaled 12 interceptions in his three years as a starter. After initially committing to James Franklin at Vanderbilt in October 2013, the defensive back committed to the Nittany Lions on January 30th, 2014 primarily as a safety.
After redshirting as a true freshman, Oruwariye saw action in 13 games in 2015 (mostly on special teams) and made five tackles, including two against Maryland. He was not often mentioned in the coverage leading up to the start of his sophomore year, although he did make a play on a Trace McSorley pass in the 2016 Blue and White Game, recording the only interception in the contest.
In 2016, Oruwariye appeared in only 11 games, but made an immediate impact in the team’s first game.
The pick-six stretched the Nittany Lions’ lead to 23-13, and was the first interception returned for a touchdown since 2014. Oruwariye spent more of his sophomore year at cornerback, rather than just seeing action on special teams, capped it off with a seven tackle performance against USC in the Rose Bowl.
Amani Oruwariye might not be a typical stat-stuffer, but he possesses several skills that the Nittany Lions will need in the 2017 football season. First, he has long arms and legs. Oruwariye is not the fastest player, but looking at his interception again, and listening to his post-game interview, it is evident that his long stride and reach was at least partially responsible for the score. Second, he has great vision and ball skills, attributes that are obviously necessary for a defensive back. Oruwariye says in the interview that he was behind the intended receiver, and so had to watch the quarterback’s eyes in order to make a play on the ball. Many young defensive backs rely too much on their speed or acceleration to create turnovers, but Oruwariye trusts his instincts and uses his environment to make an impact-a clear sign of a veteran. Finally, Oruwariye possesses versatility, something that is always needed in the defensive backfield. As mentioned previously, Oruwariye came to Happy Valley as a safety, but his length and hands made him a good fit at cornerback instead. Depending on what the Nittany Lions choose to do with their several freshmen defensive backs, Oruwariye could be making an impact at corner, nickel, or safety in 2017.
Amani Oruwariye might not be the candidate that many people think about right away, but his length, vision, and versatility, along with his leadership, make him a great choice for 2017 Breakout Player. At the very least, Bob Flounders and Greg Pickel will be able to pronounce his name correctly.