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KEEPING TABS / DANA HADDAD

Cal's Uwaezuoke a Deep Thinker

October 06, 1994|DANA HADDAD

California wide receiver Iheanyi Uwaezuoke is making the big catches. Now it's time for a little notoriety, he says.

"This year is definitely my year to make some big plays," said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior from Harvard-Westlake High. Uwaezuoke said he is stronger after an intense off-season spent in the weight room. And now he is a seasoned, thinking-man's receiver who knows how to read and exploit defenses.

So he says--and has proved.

After the first two weeks of the season, Uwaezuoke was the top-ranked receiver in the Pacific 10 Conference. However, a sprained foot and an aggravated hamstring sidelined him for Cal's game against Arizona State on Sept. 24 and limited him to one reception in the Bears' 55-0 victory over San Jose State last week.

Still, he ranks third in the Pac-10 in receptions per game and fourth in receiving yardage per game. He has 16 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown in three games. The leader in both categories is UCLA's Kevin Jordan.

The Bruins (2-3) visit Berkeley on Saturday without J.J. Stokes, who is still nursing a thigh injury. Stokes' absence won't detract from the thrill Uwaezuoke would experience if his Bears (2-2) beat UCLA. He can't wait to match his talents with those who play for a team that sold him short in 1990.

"It's more a personal contest," Uwaezuoke said. "It's always a bigger deal when you play your hometown team. I look forward to getting deep on some of those guys. I'm ready to make some big plays.

"I get excited about lining up against (UCLA defensive backs) Teddy Lawrence and Andy Colbert. That's a personal challenge."

Uwaezuoke also would like to show Bruin Coach Terry Donahue and his staff that they made a mistake. Uwaezuoke, a native of Nigeria who moved to United States when he was 7, impressed Bruin coaches at a UCLA football camp the summer before his senior year at Harvard. UCLA started recruiting him, as did Cal, Duke and Pennsylvania. But no school offered a scholarship after Uwaezuoke caught only 24 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns as a senior on a run-oriented team that went 9-2.

But Cal welcomed Uwaezuoke as a walk-on. He is no slouch in the classroom. Uwaezuoke, who was given a scholarship last year, carries a 3.5 grade-point average as a political science major. He plans to study law after graduation.

*

Don't tread on me: Brian Vellmure (Camarillo/Moorpark College) had high hopes when he accepted a scholarship at Texas El Paso. However, he soon realized he had to lower them. After all, UTEP long has had the reputation as one of college football's big-time losers.

"The guys here are numb to losing," said Vellmure, a 5-11, 191-pound strong safety. "It was hard for me to understand at first because I was used to winning. But it's only natural to let that get you down a little bit."

But Vellmure refuses to buy into the idea that the Miners (2-3) are fated to be losers. A senior who ranks third on the team in tackles, Vellmure is doing all he can to change the UTEP image. Thirty-four of his 42 tackles are unassisted. He also has two sacks and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

But last week might have been Vellmure's toughest at UTEP. Rumors were circulating that the Miner football program was about to fold because of an $800,000 deficit in the athletic department budget, but the school's athletic director met with the team and quelled the rumor. Then on Saturday, UTEP beat Hawaii, 34-28, after trailing, 21-3, in the third quarter.

"That was a huge win for us, and it was just a matter of doing what we can do," Vellmure said. "Some people might laugh, but a lot of seniors want to go to a bowl. Everyone who plays college football has that for a goal. We still think it's possible."

*

Better for the beating: Pacific linebacker Vince Bruno (Westlake) would like to thank Nebraska for its hospitality. The No. 2 Cornhuskers beat the Tigers, 70-21, two weeks ago. Bruno thinks Pacific can win the Big West Conference championship, thanks in part to the drubbing in Lincoln.

"Nebraska was so fast, everything was a blur," said Bruno, a 6-2, 226-pound sophomore linebacker. "Their linemen were running stride for stride with our defensive backs. After that, every other team we play is going to look slow, so we feel like we can take our conference."

Bruno, who ranks third on the team with 26 tackles, said he had fun despite the rout.

"In the first series when they lined up, I was yelling at them--talking trash," he said. "I don't know why, but I was pumped. I was saying, 'Come on. Let's go. Bring it on.' Then I shoved one of their linemen and got him mad."

Brenden Stai, a 6-4, 300-pound guard for Nebraska, quieted Bruno. But Bruno recorded 10 tackles and was named Pacific's defensive player of the game.

*

Around the country: Arizona senior running back Ontiwaun Carter (Kennedy) ranks second to Washington's Napoleon Kaufman among Pac-10 rushers with an average of 120.5 yards a game. Carter, who has 482 yards in 95 carries (5.1 yards per carry), has an injured left ankle but is listed as probable for Saturday's game against Colorado State. . . . Sophomore wide receiver Richard Dice (Alemany) had seven receptions for a career-high 136 yards in Arizona's 30-10 victory over Oregon State last week. He averages 22.1 yards a reception, best among Pac-10 receivers.

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