Uchenna Nwosu stared wistfully out the window of an Amtrak train bound for Los Angeles, as the landscape blurred helplessly past. He’d never felt so alone. It was December 2014, and the 17-year-old USC linebacker couldn’t help but wonder if he’d squandered his football career before it even started.
Hours earlier, Nwosu was with his teammates in San Diego, preparing for the Holiday Bowl. It had been a disheartening first season, and he questioned whether things would get better. Backing up Su’a Cravens, Nwosu barely played as a freshman. When he did see the field, his temper often got the best of him.
And in San Diego, those frustrations finally reached a boiling point. An argument with a teammate escalated into a physical confrontation. Coaches got wind of the incident and sent him home.
Nwosu, by his own description, had always been a hot-head. In school, he misbehaved, routinely landing himself in detention. His parents once took him to a doctor, worried he might need medication to tamp down his energy.
“I was on a path of destruction,” he remembers.
But no punishment scared him quite like that painful train ride home from San Diego. As USC outdueled Nebraska in a thrilling Holiday Bowl days later, he couldn’t bare to watch. The next semester, as his future hung in the balance, he didn’t enroll in classes.
Three years later, as Nwosu has emerged as a pass-swatting, edge-rushing, nightmare-inducing force on USC’s defense, the linebacker looks back on that freshman mistake with a different perspective. That train ride, he describes, was “a turning point”. Not just in his football career. But in his life.
“It made me grow up,” Nwosu says.
Ask anyone — parents, coaches, teammates — and they’ll agree: This Nwosu is entirely different from the fiery freshman with the hairpin trigger.
He is unflinchingly respectful. He has an interest in politics, something he never would’ve bothered with as a reckless 17-year-old.
On the football…