Ugo Amadi is stepping up as a leader on the team
The NCAA doesn’t allow players and coaches to work together over the summer, so every year, leaders on the team need to rise to the occasion to run practices and get everyone ready for the upcoming year.
Senior Ugochukwu Amadi is one Duck who stepped up.
“He’s been a great leader, all the way from the summer,” safeties coach Keith Heyward said. “He’s out there telling guys to run around. Sometimes it takes the players to police themselves.”
Amadi’s leadership in summer practices helped develop younger players, and those leadership qualities have translated over to games, with the safety playing a vital role in the Oregon defense.
“Just to see his improvement over the past couple years and him stepping up as a leader, taking over the defense, and it obviously shows on film,” defensive lineman Jalen Jelks said.
For Amadi, the leadership came naturally. He had to lead on his high school team, so doing the same at the collegiate level was nothing new to him. Amadi was unanimously voted to the team leadership council.
He also saw the need to become a leader after the end of last season when running back Royce Freeman graduated to the NFL.
“Someone had to step up and when I had to do it in high school, it led us a long way, and I feel I can do it here, too,” Amadi said. “I feel like players respect me enough — they trust me enough to know that I know what I’m talking about and my playing ability backs it up as well.”
Amadi earned his respect over the previous three seasons in Eugene, and not just from the players in the Oregon secondary.
“Everybody looks up to him,” junior inside linebacker Troy Dye said. “D-linemen go ask him questions. Ugo’s a great leader. He knows the defense inside a
nd out — I think he knows half of our offense as well. He’s a phenomenal leader.”
Amadi has become a role model for many of the younger players on the team, who he says have high football IQs.
Cristobal said that Amadi dedicates time to helping his teammates, whether it be with plays on the field or adjusting to college.
At the start of his Oregon career, Amadi played as a cornerback until he transitioned to safety. In the eyes of Heyward, it’s a common switch due to the skill sets that cornerbacks learn.
As a cornerback, he practiced one-on-one with Oregon’s wide receivers, which has helped him learn the Ducks’ offense. Now at safety, Amadi gets to sit back and watch the way the offense unfolds. He reads the game like a book.
“It’s actually really annoying because he’s really good at what he does,” said Brenden Schooler, who played with Amadi on defense in 2016 before switching to wide receiver. “He makes it hard for us wide receivers, which makes us better, and we go as hard as we can, which makes him better. It’s the iron sharpens iron type of thing.”
Amadi is now also a punt returner, another role he hasn’t done since high school.
At the start of the season, Amadi either called fair catch or allowed the ball to bounce away. But in the third game of Oregon’s season, Amadi got the chance to run.
Against San José State, he returned three punts for 100 total yards, highlighted by a 57-yard punt to get the Ducks to the Spartans’ 22-yard line.
“Ugo has really done a good job. He just hasn’t had a good opportunity,” Cristobal said following Oregon’s 35-22 win. “Today he had a little bit of room and some space. The guys did a really nice job for him.”
He’s comfortable with the ball tucked under his arm, scoring the team’s first defensive touchdown for two straight seasons. He also forced a fumble against Utah last season, which he returned for a touchdown.
Finally, Amadi got his moment to shine on special teams. He’s had six career interceptions — one returned for a touchdown in Oregon’s season-opening win over Bowling Green.
His plays can send the Oregon sideline into a frenzy. And he feeds off that hype.
“What I think I bring to this team is I bring a sense of energy,” Amadi said. “I try to talk to them in a way that I talk to them like I’ve been here before and what you should expect, what’s going to happen on the field, in the meeting rooms.”
Amadi does bring an energy to the team. He may not show it for all to see, but his teammates see it every day. According to some, his personality helps keep practice light.
“Big jokester,” Schooler said. “Always telling jokes. Always trying to tell a joke to somebody that they don’t know. Always trying to get a laugh out of somebody.”
In a sport that cycles through players every four or five years, Amadi has left a lasting impact on past and current Ducks that will shape the team for years to come.
“He’s invaluable in a ton of ways and we’re certainly privileged and glad to have him,” Cristobal said. “He’s another guy who knows his best football’s ahead of him.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow
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