He’ll be the first one to admit it.
The 2010 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year would like to forget his sophomore season when he missed a handful of games with a meniscus and was suspended before December’s Maaco Las Vegas Bowl by former coach Dennis Erickson after a verbal dispute at practice.
Onyeali found himself at a crossroad when Todd Graham replaced Erickson at the end of last year. He could continue down the path of disobedience or attempt to resurrect his once promising career in Tempe. When Graham took over, he made the suspension indefinite allowing plenty of time for Onyeali to reflect back on where it all went wrong.
“When Dennis Erickson suspended me it gave me time to think,” he explained to Brad Cesmat Thursday on ‘Big Guy on Sports.’ “Just to reflect on the season I had and the way I was living my life. I had a lot of changing to do in my life…I lost the hunger I once had. It was complacency. One of the biggest killers among football players.”
Fortunately for Onyeali and Sun Devil fans everywhere, the hunger is back and the complacency appears to be gone after Graham lifted the suspension at the beginning of fall camp, allowing him to participate in all team activities both on and off the field.
He says Graham, who recruited him while he was head coach at Tulsa, always treated him fairly, even when he was told the suspension would continue into the off-season.
“It was probably one of the nicest suspensions you could ever have,” Onyeali told Cesmat. “It was a good conversation. He told me the behavior I had here was unacceptable and it won’t work at the program he’s going to create at ASU.”
For now, all parties are happy. Graham and his staff are pleased with Onyeali’s focus on the field and in the classroom (he had a 3.0 GPA last semester). He has also made an impact in the community helping his church build houses for low income families.
Now it’s time for him to make an impact on the field.
He’ll get his first chance when ASU hosts Northern Arizona in the season opener on August 30 at Sun Devil Stadium.