LOS ANGELES >> Sunny Odogwu was not named by accident. He was an “oops baby,” the 24-year-old says now, but the youngest of eight in Nigerian family, he was named for his ability to bring light to his family.
The right tackle is bringing that same light to UCLA.
Odogwu is UCLA’s towering 6-foot-8, 315-pound ball of sunshine. Since coming to the United States at 16 to play basketball, the graduate transfer from Miami (Fla.) has turned into a great hope for UCLA’s ailing offensive line as well as a beloved teammate with an infectious personality.
“Getting to know everybody, this is a new facility, learning to get around this whole big building, it’s a thing of beauty,” Odogwu said, gesturing to UCLA’s new Wasserman Football Center, a $75 million football-specific facility outfitted with everything from an outdoor patio to a team barbershop.
Odogwu, nine years after leaving his family to come to the United States, still marvels at this country. His first night in the United States was his first time sleeping in a bed after years of sleeping on thin mats on the ground in Nigeria. He was in awe of the water running from the sink. He turned it off and on, off and on, off and on. To him, it was magic water.
He keeps in touch with his family, but hasn’t seen them since he left. He knows the separation will be worth it one day.
“It’s a journey and I believe God is taking me somewhere,” Odogwu said. “When I get there, I’ll be able to see them whenever I want to, to take care of my mom, which is the most important thing in my life right now, and take care of my siblings.”
His path in the United States started in West Virginia, where he played basketball. He then moved to Maryland and starting playing football as a senior in high school. An athletic, large body with raw talent at the time, Odogwu won over Jedd Fisch, then the offensive coordinator at Miami, at a recruiting meal. Odogwu ordered a steak, ate the steak then asked for another.
“After that, I said, that’s the type of guy we want on our team,” Fisch, now UCLA’s offensive coordinator, remembers with a laugh.
Odogwu went on to start 14 games at Miami, but he also suffered two season-ending injuries in 2015 and 2016 before choosing to transfer to UCLA over Michigan. He’s expected to play often at right tackle, where he will share time with Kenny Lacy. Managing the 24-year-old Odogwu’s body is a key for the Bruins, Coach Jim Mora said, as Odogwu will sometimes sit…