CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Obum Gwacham wants one more chance to make an impact at Oregon State.
Having struggled at wide receiver his entire college career, the 6-foot-5 senior is switching to defensive end for the Beavers.
He jokes that maybe his biggest catch is ahead of him -- in the form of an interception.
"We actually have the dime package in now, and I'll probably be back there if any team tries to throw a Hail Mary," he laughed. "I'll try to bat the ball down or get an interception. You know, just using my skills."
Defensive line coach Joe Seumalo planted the idea of coming over to the defense last season, Gwacham said. Following Oregon State's victory over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, he started seriously considering the possibility for his final year.
Gwacham always had an uneven career at receiver. During three seasons plagued by injury and inconsistency, he'd had just 11 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. He also played on special teams.
Gwacham talked it over with his family, but really it was a no-brainer. If he didn't try the defense, would he always wonder, "What if?"
"I had no problem saying yes," he said.
Born in Nigeria, Gwacham and his family came to the United States when he was 7 and settled in Chino Hills, California. Gwacham was captain of both the football and track teams at Ayala High School. His big brother, Nnamdi, played receiver and was on the track team at Utah State.Gwacham redshirted in football his freshman year at Oregon State, but took part in track and field events. He has moonlighted as a high jumper off and on for the Beavers, even though the school doesn't have an official men's track and field team. Back in 2010, Gwacham finished fourth at the conference championships with a leap of 7 feet, 1 1/2 inches.
It was always hoped that because of his height and athleticism (in addition to his jumping ability he's also fast), Gwacham would become an easy red-zone target for quarterback Sean Mannion. But instead, Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks -- both now in the NFL -- developed into Oregon State's go-to receivers. This season, junior Richard Mullaney is poised for a breakout at the position.
So now Gwacham is competing for the spot opposite starting DE Dylan Wynn. Oregon State is shoring up the position after Scott Crichton decided to leave school a year early for the NFL.
"I think Joshua James and Obum Gwacham are doing well. I think Titus Failauga is doing well. I think we're gonna maybe not have one, have two or three guys who can play," coach Mike Riley said. "We've always been historically a good rotating team, if indeed we can rotate. That's our goal."
Riley said Gwacham is likely to be used in third-down pass-rush situations, although he's made enough progress to be worked into a number of scenarios.
Gwacham is hopeful he'll be able to make his mark for the Beavers, who went 7-6 last season, capped by the Hawaii Bowl victory.
"It's a new position but a lot of things still apply. As a receiver you're going up against a defensive back, now I'm going up against an offensive tackle or a tight end, someone who is a little bigger," he said. "You're still trying to get by them. But I'd say the hardest part is going against someone who is twice your size."
Gwacham worked hard to gain weight and add muscle in the eight months since his decision. He's added more than 12 pounds since last season.
He said what has helped him most is being a quick learner, as well as Gwacham's work on special teams.
But there are still some things that surprise him.
"It's funny because the other day we were running a fly sweep. Being on the other side I was usually watching the fly sweep run past the defensive end," he said. "This time I was the defensive end and he ran right by. When that happened I was like, 'Ah, now I know what they feel like.' "