Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Robert Gagliardi

Nzeocha in line to make his final season a good one for Pokes


August 18, 2016

LARAMIE — The time is now for Eric Nzeocha.

The University of Wyoming middle linebacker is a senior, and for the first time in his UW career, Nzeocha isn’t switching positions.

Nzeocha came to UW in 2012 from Neusitz, Germany, as a wide receiver. After he redshirted as a freshman, Nzeocha played on special teams in 2013. The following year, when coach Craig Bohl was hired, Nzeocha moved to tight end.

Last season, Nzeocha was moved to middle linebacker and started five of the first seven games. He recorded 35 tackles and one tackle for loss.

Now that he hasn’t had to learn a new position, the 6-foot-3, 231-pound Nzeocha feels primed to have solid senior season. Right now, he’s the backup behind senior Lucas Wacha.

“I definitely have a lot more confidence in myself in terms of knowing what to do,” Nzeocha said. “I’m pretty comfortable where I’m at right now, but there’s still room to improve.”

That includes, Nzeocha added, playing fast, getting down hill faster and making more plays.

UW defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Steve Stanard likes how Nzeocha has applied himself since the end of last season. He also said Nzeocha was having a good spring until a hamstring injury slowed him down.

Even though Nzeocha is still behind Wacha at middle linebacker, Stanard still likes the progress he’s made during fall camp.

“When you move a young man around was much as Eric has over his career, you wish you could just flip a switch and it was that easy,” Stanard said. “But it’s not.

“Eric has really applied himself both in the weight room and the meeting room. He’s worked hard to move like a linebacker, function like a linebacker, think like a linebacker and see like a linebacker.”

And perhaps, he could produce like his older brother did at UW two years ago.

Mark Nzeocha was a senior when Bohl and staff was hired. He bounced around at different positions on defense under the previous coaching staff with mixed results.

Despite having to learn a new defensive scheme, a 4-3, Nzeocha started as an outside linebacker, and in 6.5 games recored 59 tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback sacks, recovered two fumbles and broke up five passes. A knee injury at Hawaii in the season’s seventh game ended his season.

Despite missing the final 5.5 games, Nzeocha finished fourth on the team in tackles. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, and is still with the team.

“I don’t think Eric is where Mark was, quite frankly, but we’re pleased with his progress,” Bohl said. “Eric’s done some good things. He’s a tall, lean guy that runs really well. In our defense you need middle guys that can run, and he can certainly do that.

“He’s not a finished product yet, but he’s better than last year.”

Eric didn’t make any comparisons between himself and his brother in terms of their playing abilities, but hopes he can make his final season a memorable one.

“This is my last year to prove what I can do,” he said. “It was the same for Mark a couple of years ago. He took his shot and ran with it. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

More linebacker news

UW has 16 linebackers in camp, so there is depth.

Wacha and redshirt freshman Logan Wilson of Casper at weak-side linebacker have maintained their starting jobs so far. Senior D.J. May and junior Jalen Ortiz are in a close battle at nickel, which is a hybrid linebacker/safety. At strong-side linebacker, junior Tim Kamana and sophomore Christian Irving are competing for playing time. Stanard said Irving has been out recently with an injury, but hopes he will be back soon.

UW signed four linebackers in its 2016 recruiting class — all high school products. Stanard said he likes what they’ve shown in terms of their attitude and movement skills. Stanard didn’t mention any names, but said a couple could help this season on special teams.

Practice notes

UW practiced once Wednesday morning. It marked the 11th practice of fall camp, and Bohl wasn’t happy with every thing he saw.

“I will look at the tape, but I don’t think it was one of our better days out there,” he said. “I didn’t like the attention to detail, which is a classic case when you’re a young football team. The want-to is there, but to really reach down in your gut to execute and focus can be another thing.

“To be a championship level team, these are days you don’t have. We had one. We have to learn from it, forget it and drive on.”

Bohl said senior wide receiver Jake Maulhardt and junior fullback Drew Van Maanen didn’t finish practice due to “soft tissue issues.” Bohl doesn’t think either one will be out long. Senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry, junior cornerback Robert Priester and sophomore free safety Andrew Wingard continue to be out with hamstring strains.

Bohl said he hopes to have those three back in a couple of days.


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