OSU football: Ugwoegbu returns home after hurricane
Football was not at the forefront of Oregon State linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu’s mind when he heard the news that Hurricane Harvey was headed for his hometown of Katy, Texas back in late August
Ugwoegbu kept in constant touch with his mother, Grace, as the storm moved in and when the flood waters hit the area.
Their home was severely damaged and Ugwoegbu’s mother, brother and aunt had to take shelter elsewhere.
The family was safe, but the hurricane took its toll on the region.
“At first it was kind of hard for me to stay focused on the task at hand at the time that it happened,” Ugwoegbu recalled this past week. “It was the Portland State game when I had found out about the damage to my house and it was kind of tough for me to stay focused and have my mind all the way here during practice. I’m always just worried about my family because at the end of the day those are the ones that I do all this for.
“So this whole experience just reminded me that football is still just a game at the end of the day and what’s really important is taking care of the ones that I love.”
Ugwoegbu had a few games to play before OSU’s first bye of the season, so he stuck it out in Corvallis until the break came and he was able to fly down to Houston.
He was stunned by the trail of destruction left by the storm.
Work to rebuild the family house had already begun, but Ugwoegbu said the walls were cut up and sheetrock was pulled up from the floor.
“The house was basically a skeleton and the neighborhood was a mess,” Ugwoegbu said. “It looked like a war zone with trash on both sidewalks up to like six feet tall and you’re driving on the street and you feel like you’re driving in a bunker or something.
“It was eye-opening to see how much damage was really done by the water.”
Ugwoegbu helped his family and others living nearby to move some household items out of the area and spent the rest of the time with his loved ones.
Houston Texans player J.J. Watt started a foundation to help those in need from the event and Ugwoegbu said he has contributed to the cause.
He plans to head back down at some point after the season.
“For sure going to go back there because our house is being rebuilt right now,” he said. “I think my mom was just telling me that they just put in new tiles downstairs and tiles for the stairs. So I’m definitely going to go back home and see my family, of course, and then help out as much as I can for my house and my neighborhood.”
Christian Wallace and Calvin Tyler are also from the Houston area and Ugwoegbu made sure he asked them how they were doing and that he was going through the same issue, so they could talk to him if they felt the need.
Other OSU players were affected when Hurricane Irma rolled through Florida.
“Most of the guys from Florida are in my position group, so I’ve always had their back no matter what it is and especially when something tragic like that happens, I just extended my care to them and just told them that everything’s going to be good and we’re all going through it together and we can be here for each other,” Ugwoegbu said.
On the football field, Ugwoegbu hasn’t quite matched the season he had last year, at least statiscally.
He finished with 54 total tackles, 11 for loss with 5.5 sacks as a sophomore before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc ligament sprain to his right foot at Stanford.
Ugwoegbu has been putting in quite a bit of work to rehab the injury. He said last week he recorded his fastest speed since getting hurt.
“In the offseason coming off my foot injury I just focused on re-strengthening my right leg and my right foot with squats, not having pushed off that foot for a while, re-strengthening the foot, working the toes and the tendons in the foot and then realigning my hips to get back right from walking in a boot.
“All summer I was working my hardest to get my speed back up and get my weight and keep my weight and everything and I did all that.”
This season he has 32 tackles, with 1.5 for loss and a half a sack. Ugwoegbu said his role hasn’t changed a lot and his teammates have been a little more effective in putting pressue on the opposing quarterbacks.
Opposing teams are also more aware of Ugwoegbu’s abilities.
“Having the season I had last year, teams are going to recognize me and they’re going to slide the protection toward me, so it’s been a little tougher this year to get home to the quarterback and get sacks like I did last year,” he said. “But it’s opened up lanes for our other teammates and to me that’s all that matters is getting the win and getting the stop on defense.”