Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
College has provided some unexpected new benefits for Texas A&M freshman wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu.
Take Monday morning for example, when he was greeted with a standing ovation when he arrived for his learning theory class.
“I had never seen anything like that,” Nwachukwu said, laughing. “The students have a lot of spirit and it was good that I was able to have a big game and give them something that would be exciting to them.”
That might be a tad understating what Nwachukwu accomplished in his breakout game two nights before to help the Aggies to a 38-30 victory over Utah State.
Nwachukwu had four “touches” in the game with three receptions and a running play. He scored a touchdown on each of them.
In the process, Nwachukwu broke the school freshman scoring record of three touchdowns set by Leeland McElroy against Missouri in 1993.
“I definitely have never had a game like that,” Nwachukwu said. “I was jumping for joy after it played out, because I had never had four touchdowns in one game anywhere. It was real fun.”
But he’s determined that stunning introduction won’t be what people think of when they remember his career at Texas A&M.
“I’m going to use that game as motivation, to show what I can do,” Nwachukwu said. “After something like that, I’m not going to take a week off.”
That work ethic was built by his parents, who both were born in Nigeria before arriving in the Dallas area to work. They raised their family there and instilled the value of hard work and education among their children.
That attitude is coming at an important time as top Texas A&M receiver Jeff Fuller went down with a cracked right fibula earlier in the Utah State game and will miss the next four to six weeks.
Nwachukwu picked up the slack, scoring on a 39-yard run and grabbing touchdown passes of 35, 16 and 50 yards.
“When Jeff went down, we all had to step up,” Nwachukwu said. “Before he got hurt, people didn’t pay much attention to me. But with him going down, people will start looking for me. It will be harder, but I want to use this as motivation to try to get better.”
His athletic ability might be among the strongest in the Aggies' program. He ran the 200 and 400 meter dashes and notched a personal best of 6 feet, 10 inches in the high jump.
That athleticism has provided another weapon since his arrival at college. Texas A&M coaches have employed him as defensive back in late-game situations when they need to knock a ball away at the end zone because of his leaping ability.
“It’s kind of fun to go back and play defense,” Nwachukwu said. “I didn’t play much defense in high school. But they like me to go back and see if I can go back and leap and knock the ball away because they like my ability.”
On offense, Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson has learned that the best strategy sometimes is merely throwing the ball and letting Nwachukwu go up and get it.
“Leaping is one of my favorite things to do. You go up try to make a play and try to come down with the ball,” Nwachukwu said. “Jerrod puts the ball up where the defender can't get it, so that I can go and get it. I appreciate him for doing that.”
His big debut wasn’t a surprise to Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, who expected he would contribute early in his freshman season.
“He’s an exceptional player who is very talented and is finding his way,” Sherman said. “But he’s just scratched the surface as a receiver. (His big game) wasn’t an accident.”
That athleticism was one of the first attractions for Sherman when he saw Nwachukwu in high school, where he led Allen High School to the Texas Class 5A Division I state title last season.
“The thing I noticed first was his name,” Sherman said, chuckling.
Most of his teammates have called him “EZ” rather than learn his name, which is pronounced as “WATCH-a-coo.”
But after such an auspicious early performance, Sherman has decided it might be wise to learn to pronounce the name of his young phenom.
“I finally realized this weekend that I probably need to learn it and stop calling him ‘EZ,’ and call him by his real name,” Sherman said. “Because any time when someone scores four touchdowns on four touches, you better learn who he is.”