Omar Nazel's Play Speaks For Itself

Sept. 30, 2002

The verdict is in. Omar Nazel isn't all talk.

The junior defensive end from Oakland's Skyline High--a self-described big mouth--is known for having the gift of gab. He could be chatting on the phone, whooping it up with his teammates or singing along to his favorite music, but whatever the case, he always makes his presence known verbally.

'I've just been insane from day one,' said Nazel. 'I was always the class clown. I always wanted to speak out and say my piece. I always have something to say, regardless. It's just in my nature.'

This year, he's been making his presence known in a few more ways.

After three years as a reserve player, he is now the starting weakside end on one of the best defensive lines in the country. Coming into this season, he had just 15 career tackles. After four games in 2002, he already has 20 tackles, including five for losses, two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two deflections. His emergence has been a most pleasant suprise for the Trojans. Now, his football skills speak almost as loudly as he does (he's this week's Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week for his game against OSU). And speaking up is something he cherishes almost as much as making a sack.

'Someone has to speak up,' said Nazel. 'Carson Palmer and Troy Polamalu are great players, but they are relatively quiet and lead by example. I'm like a PA announcer. My voice echoes up and down the hallway. If something needs to be said and you need everyone to hear it, then I'll say it. I don't have any problems with bearing the burden of saying something wrong. I can deal with it.'

Nazel is starting to back up his words. But that wasn't always the case at USC. It took him three years to go from a 215-pound end who could only pass rush to a 245-pound end who could shine in all facets of the game. Part of the reason for that delay was his own lack of discipline.

'During my freshman year, I didn't really know the effort that it took to be the quality of athlete that I wanted to be,' said Nazel. 'So I asked myself what I was doing wrong. I realized that I wasn't necessarily eating right or getting the proper sleep. I didn't have football prioritized in my head daily. And I wasn't hitting the weights as hard as I should have. I wasn't putting my all into football. But I changed all that and now I'm up to 245 and I feel really comfortable at this weight and I'm playing well. I think I can get up to 260 next year and still feel comfortable.'

Nazel wears No. 56, which is the number of legendary sack artist Lawrence Taylor, but he had another number in mind before he arrived at USC.

'USC gave me 56 and I was suprised at getting such a good number,' said Nazel. 'My nickname back in Oakland was '16' so I used to tell everyone that I was going to wear that number when I got to college.

'I got that nickname because back in ninth grade, when I was just a skinny kid out there playing football, I didn't have any cleats. One day, my coach asked me why that was. I said 'Coach, I can't find any cleats my size.' And he said 'I have cleats. What size do you wear?' And I said 'Size 16, coach.' He was like '16!' From then on, he would say '16! Get over here!' And the name just stuck with me.'

Nazel grew up in Oakland playing basketball. He didn't entertain the thought of playing football until, one day, his cousin dared him.

'We were entering the ninth grade and I just wanted to play basketball,' said Nazel. 'He said 'If you are such a great athlete, why don't you play football? You're scared, that's why.' So I said, 'Fine, I'll show you I can play football.'

'So I played in the ninth grade and was just horrible. But I got better as time went on and soon scholarship offers started to come in.'

One of the reasons Nazel chose USC out of all those offers was that he wanted to dispel some myths.

'There's a stereotype about Northern California athletes, about how they can't hang with Southern California athletes,' said Nazel. 'So that's one of the reasons I came to USC. I wanted to demolish that. I also wanted to be known in the whole state of Calfornia. Why would I want to go anywhere else?'

Nazel started out as a linebacker, but was quickly tabbed for the defensive line. It was a struggle early on for the gangly freshman.

'I couldn't handle all those blocks,' said Nazel. ' I was going against Travis Claridge and Antoine Harris. Those cats were driving me up and down the field.'

Since then, Nazel has improved by leaps and bounds.

'I think I have good vision for where the ball is going,' said Nazel. 'Pass rushing is one of my strengths, though it hasn't shown much this year. I also am good at dropping in coverage. That is fun to me. It's the only part of linebacker that I miss. As far as my weaknesses, I need to get a lot quicker off the ball and I need to get a lot more physical.'

He's doing a fine job so far as part of a unit that is just starting to realize what it can accompish. Nazel is the only junior among the starters (the rest are sophomores), but he's quick to credit a couple of seniors and his position coach for how well things are going.

'We honestly have six defensive linemen that play on each down,' said Nazel. 'I'm not saying that there are six guys out there all the time, though. There's me, Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody and Kenechi Udeze, and we get most of the plays. But then there is Bernard Riley on the sideline and he is always telling Mike and Shaun what he's seeing and what they should be doing. And then there is Anthony Daye on the sidelines telling me and Kenechi what he sees and what we should be doing. A lot of times, Coach Orgeron doesn't even have to coach that hard because it's like we almost are coaching ourselves at times. Everything we need to know about the game we have learned from Coach Orgeron.'

Nazel's actions are now speaking as loudly as his voice, so keep your ears open.

You'll be hearing from him soon.

by Chris HustonAssistant Sports Information Director

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