By Patrick Klein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The only thing keeping Iheanyi Uwaezuoke from becoming a household name is his name.
ESPN referred to the California junior wide receiver as Iheanyi Biaz on SportsCenter, and all Arizona coach Dick Tomey could say about Cal was: "They have a really good Nigerian wide receiver, whatever his name is. ..." It took UA Sports Information Director Tom Duddleston to pronounce the name for Tomey.
For the record, Iheanyi Uwaezuoke is pronounced Eee-HAH-nee Oh-WAY-zoh-kay, but Uwaezuoke, who moved from Nigeria to the United States when he was 7, doesn't take the tongue tripping personally.
"Some people still don't pronounce it right," he said. "That's my goal before I leave here, to have everyone say it right. ESPN does a good job messing it up every year. I'm a SportsCenter favorite."
After all, Uwaezuoke is making a name for himself as a wide receiver for the Golden Bears. He currently is fourth in the Pacific 10 Conference in receptions per game (4.7) and seventh in receiving yards per game (64.6) to go with his three touchdowns.
But as Cal's 3-5 record would attest, this has not been an easy year. A summer car wreck put linebacker Paul Joiner in a coma from which he is still recovering, and a broken left clavicle ended the season Ä and maybe the career Ä of star quarterback Dave Barr four weeks ago.
To a wide receiver, an injury to his starting quarterback is especially tough to stomach.
"The injuries are the hardest part of the game to take," Uwaezuoke said. "Dave and I spent a lot of the summer working out together. My heart goes out to him because his career may be in trouble with an injury like that. Without question, it changes your game. Going from a righty to a lefty, that puts different spins on the ball. But as a player you have to go out and play no matter who's in there."
Uwaezuoke got his first exposure to football, and being a wide receiver, after his family moved to the states by playing streetball with neighborhood kids.
"I didn't play any football in Nigeria, but here I played a lot of streetball, and when you play streetball there isn't much of a running game."
So Uwaezuoke became a wide receiver. A successful high school career at Harvard High School in southern California led to him walking on at Cal.
"I felt that he was going to be good right off the bat," said Cal wide receivers coach Bill Cockerham about his walk-on-turned-star receiver. "It was just a matter of him getting experience and repetitions."
A big-play receiver who averaged over 17 yards a catch last season, Uwaezuoke tries to emulate another successful wideout.
"My favorite receiver is (Green Bay All-Pro) Sterling Sharpe. He can run, catch the ball and is fast," he said. "I try to be as well-rounded as I can be. A lot of things come with this job: blocking,
getting the tough yards, going across the middle."
All of those qualities have helped Uwaezuoke begin to take his place alongside recent Golden Bear wideout standouts Sean Dawkins and Mike Caldwell, the former being a first-round draft pick in 1993 by the Indianapolis Colts and the latter a free-agent pickup of the San Francisco 49ers.
"I played around those guys and saw what they did," Uwaezuoke said. "I don't see myself as filling their shoes Ä they did their thing and I do mine."
"It's been a positive transition," Cockerham said. "He got a chance to tutor under (Dawkins and Caldwell) and he learned quite a bit from them. Even when they were here, Iheanyi played a key role as a wide receiver on third downs."
Despite his ascent to near the top of the conference's wide receivers' list, Uwaezuoke remains determined to climb higher.
"Fourth in the Pac-10 is supposed to be a big deal, but my expectations are still high," Uwaezuoke said. "I compete against those guys every week and I have a lot of respect for them, but I have a lot of respect for me."
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