Brooks: ‘Chido’ Looking Like A Name To Remember
BOULDER – At this point in August, before any games are played, introductions are necessary. Sometimes pronunciation guides, too. Said correctly, it is “Chee-do-bay Ahh-woo-zee.”
And Chidobe Awuzie concedes with a chuckle that he’s heard his name pronounced “100 different ways – all of them wrong.”
Better get used to hearing it and saying it properly; as difficult as it might seem rolling off the tongue now, by late November his could become a household name for Colorado football fans.
Early in preseason camp, Awuzie’s defensive coaches and teammates found a nimble way around getting tripped up in the syllables, tagging him “Chido.”
That’s simple enough, but CU coach Mike MacIntyre has another name for him that’s even easier: playmaker.
“He makes a lot of plays,” MacIntyre said after the release of Monday’s game-week depth chart that shows Awuzie as one of only two freshman starters on either side of the ball (the other is middle linebacker Addison Gillam).
Continued “Mac” on “Chido:” “He’s very athletic. If you looked at him you wouldn’t say he looks like a freshman DB, the way he’s built. He’s very, very bright. He’s a 3.5 student coming out of high school and he carries that over to the football field. He picks up things very quick . . . . athletically, physically and mentally he’s ready to go.”
Awuzie apparently always has been ready to go at almost any position on the field. At Oak Grove High School in San Jose, Calif., in addition to playing safety, corner and returning punts and kickoffs, he was used at running back, receiver, tight end and occasionally at quarterback.
Recall MacIntyre saying Awuzie makes plays? Consider: As an Oak Grove senior, “Chido” rushed for 14 touchdowns (and 1,285 yards), caught seven TD passes, returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns, blocked four kicks and forced a pair of fumbles. With a grin, he said he was known as “Mr. Versatility.” No wonder.
When Awuzie arrived on the CU campus with the rest of the freshmen in late June, it didn’t take long for upperclassmen like Paul Vigo to give him the once over, then look again. “I saw him in the summer, coming in and working hard, and said, ‘This kid probably is going to play right now,’” recalled Vigo, a senior captain and starting outside linebacker. “We’d go back and forth (with other upperclassmen), like, ‘Well, we’ve got to see when the pads go on.’ But he’s come along. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.”
That first look will come Sunday afternoon against Colorado State in the Rocky Mountain Showdown (4 p.m., Sports Authority Field at Mile High). Awuzie will start at nickel back and back up No. 1 left corner Kenneth Crawley.
In his college debut, Awuzie knows the pregame butterflies will be plentiful. “Yeah . . . I ain’t going to lie,” he said. “In Pop Warner I had butterflies, but never did in high school because I knew what I was doing. Since I’m still kind of learning everything and am a freshman, they’re going to be there. I’m excited; everybody always wants to play as a freshman. There’s definitely going to be butterflies for the first game, but usually after the first play they’re all gone.”
Vigo has no doubt that Awuzie will play as he’s done throughout August camp. He called Awuzie “a very knowledgeable athlete, a smart kid . . . we ask him to do a lot and he steps up and plays good football. Whatever the coaches have asked him to do, he’s done it.”
After participating in three summer team camps for MacIntyre and his staff at San Jose State, Awuzie followed MacIntyre and assistant Andy LaRussa to CU as a defensive back. Familiarity with Awuzie from their time together offered Larussa “an idea of what we were getting. But he’s worked really hard to put himself in this position and he’s made the plays. That’s a testament to him; he did the work and gave himself an opportunity.”
In preseason camp and in the player-run practices preceding it, Awuzie turned heads almost from the first snap with his speed and athleticism. “In the beginning of camp I was just trying to learn things, so I was just playing football,” he said. “But toward the end of the camp I was learning more and understanding concepts. Now it’s coming together – my athleticism and learning the techniques. And I’m playing faster now.”
LaRussa calls the 6-foot, 190-pound Awuzie “an extremely good athlete,” who also had “a good idea of what to do in the secondary . . . he’s played some safety, some corner and had the ball in his hands. He knows the different ways an offense is trying to attack from just having played the position.”
Before arriving at CU, Awuzie hadn’t played nickel back – the fifth defensive back that now is common against spread-style and passing offenses. But after playing corner and safety in high school, Awuzie called the nickel position “a combination of both. Once you combine those two and understand, you can relate it to a corner and safety. It’s just a DB, and it’s good to play it as a freshman to learn more. I’m learning a lot playing both positions.”
However, he said he’s still absorbing CU’s 4-3 defensive scheme and the secondary’s role in it: “This defense is very crazy. It’s something I’ve never played before. Sometimes it’s man, sometimes it’s zone. And we press (receivers) different – that’s something I’ve never really played before.”
With most of camp behind him, LaRussa feels as comfortable as he can about his portion of the secondary. (Charles Clark coaches the safeties.) “My guys had a great camp, got a lot of reps in,” LaRussa said. “We’re fortunate to go against a receiver like Paul Richardson every day; he’s one of the best in the league and obviously it helps us get better when we go against the best every day. But you can never be satisfied, that’s the key.
“I think our guys are ready, but you never ever think things are 100 percent. You keep working and fine-tuning and making sure it’s all ready to go. The focus of the guys and their intensity doing things – that encourages you.”
Another source of encouragement: young guys like Chidobe Awuzie. Remember the name; chances are good you’ll hear it frequently over the next four years.