Editorial Note: This story was used as the senior feature story for Liberty's season-opening game on Sept. 5 against Delaware State. Chima Uzowihe currently ranks fourth on the team with 35 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for a loss and 8.0 sacks. Earlier this year, Uzowihe became the program and Big South all-time career leader in sacks, having recorded 25.0 sacks in 42 career games played. He also ranks fourth in school history with 38.5 career tackles for a loss.
At a height of 6-2 and 250 pounds, no one would argue that Chima Uzowihe is a big man.
Additionally, no one would argue the senior captain makes big plays after a standout season in 2014. He finished the year with 42 tackles (23 solo, 19 assisted), including 14 tackles for a loss (83 yards) and eight sacks (55 yards). He added three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and two blocked kicks, including a blocked field goal attempt against No. 1 Coastal Carolina that pushed Liberty into its first-ever NCAA FCS Playoffs appearance.
What Liberty football fans might find surprising is that Uzowihe credits the scale of his on-field success so much to the small things.
"I'm a details guy," Uzowihe declared, "in everything. Really, everything. I'm very detailed. Things have to be just so — if one little thing is off, I'm bothered."
Since stepping onto campus as a freshman in 2012, Uzowihe has made an immediate impact for the Flames by focusing his efforts not just on the broad strokes of his position, but the minute components, as well.
"He pays a lot of attention to detail," junior defensive lineman JaRon Greene, the teammate Uzowihe credits with clearing the hole for his infamous blocked kick, echoed. "That's one thing I've learned from him. I always paid some attention to detail, but when I came to college, I wondered how you step it up to another level. For Chima, it was all the little things he does.
"For example, he's a good pass rusher, but we're all great pass rushers in college. It's the small stuff he does — not stepping under himself, timing, the tiny things (defensive line) Coach (Vantz Singletary) preaches —and has always done that made him get so much better at it. That's what separates him from others on this team, in this conference and in this country."
In other words, the old phrase, "practice doesn't make perfect — perfect practice makes perfect" could be Uzowihe's motto. From watching film to physical training to practice on the field, he believes in hard work and hard work done well.
"He knows when it's time to zero in. He's always been that way, even as a true freshman coming out of high school," Singletary remembered. "It's one reason we never had the opportunity to redshirt him. He could diagnose things. He wasn't one of those guys you had to tell a million times how things are done. For him, there are no shortcuts. That's how he got to the position he is in today and he appreciates that."
It's an all-encompassing commitment Uzowihe carries off the football field and into every aspect of his life.
In the classroom, Uzowihe is completing a challenging degree (biology, with a focus in environmental science) with an eye on physician assistant school after graduation.
While he regretfully admitted that managing his coursework and the full-time job that is NCAA Division I college football sometimes means limited sleep at night, the lineman is sure of his choice of study and dedicated to seeing it through.
"I wanted to focus on medicine and helping people," Uzowihe said. "It's tough, but you just have to push through it. There's light at the end of the tunnel, now, and in the future I know it will pay off."
As a person, Uzowihe's attention to detail manifests itself in his character and consistency. He is a humble guy who chooses his words carefully and strives to ensure his actions follow.
"The same way Chima is on the field, he's like that everywhere," Greene stated. "He's great in the classroom, he doesn't get into trouble, you don't see him out at parties — he doesn't do any of that stuff. He just does what he's supposed to do. He has manners, he'll give you the shirt off his back if you need it — he's just a really great guy, and that's genuinely who he is."
"He exemplifies all the little things that you look for in a good man," Singletary agreed. "Just a real high-character, high-morals kind of a person, and very humble. He's a person I hope I know for the rest of my life."
As a senior and leader for the Flames defense, Uzowihe aims to similarly influence his teammates. Now that the team has made a postseason run, after all, there is new pressure to repeat and go further.
"The pressure has shifted from us making the playoffs to winning a national championship, no question about it," Uzowihe nodded. "Once we made it to the playoffs and beat James Madison last year, it gave us the confidence and put fuel to the fire. It made us even more hungry. We know what we can do, we know who we have and we have great coaches to guide us along the way."
When asked about how he will handle new and heightened expectations for himself and the team, Uzowihe speaks calmly of fundamentals, mental improvements and physical tweaks he can make to his game; but all in all, the lineman admits that he doesn't feel much different than ever before. He'll take the large, looming season and all its lofty goals and do what he does with most other big things - take it day by day, game by game, in small pieces.
"I'm ready to focus on this season," Uzowihe said. "The past season happened, it was good, but we have more in store. I'm just excited.
"Every year we get to go out and showcase what we have, and it's always exciting. This season is kind of bittersweet because it's my last, but I'm trying to live for the moment and do everything I can to help my team."
While that may come down to a lot of little things for Uzowihe, there's no doubt he will have a big impact for the Flames yet again.
By Ryley Rush, a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics
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