Weighing in at 375 pounds — and looking like every bit of it up close — freshman offensive lineman Michael Onwenu is the biggest player on the Michigan football team, and not by a small margin.
But what does a player like him eat to build that hulking, muscle-bound frame?
“I don’t know, I like grapes,” Onwenu said with a straight face. “I like fruit, so, I just eat a lot of fruit. I swear, I don’t even eat as much as people think I do. … I don’t eat a lot of junk food, just whatever I feel like eating.”
Whether you believe his dietary habits or not, Onwenu has already been given a chance to put his impressive size to good use early in his first season with the Wolverines. Saturday, he was one of a team-record 17 true freshmen to make his collegiate debut for Michigan in a 63-3 win over Hawaii.
Onwenu may be part of a loaded recruiting class, but since enrolling in classes over the summer, the Detroit Cass Tech product stood out enough for coach Jim Harbaugh to grant him the opportunity to practice on both the offensive and defensive lines — and play both in his first game appearance as well.
When he took the field at Michigan Stadium for the first time as an offensive lineman, Onwenu said “it didn’t feel real.” Little did he know that, due in part to the defensive line dealing with numerous injuries Saturday, he ended up playing both ways right off the bat.
Onwenu had been a two-way player all through high school — offense more than defense — but he says he has no preference for which way he lines up, as long as it gets him on the field.
“I’ve always played both, so I really don’t have a favorite,” Onwenu said. “Even going into the future, I feel like I could play both. … I’ve always played offense more than defense, but I feel like I can be better at defense. I just have to get consistent with my technique. When I get consistent, I feel like I’ll be dominant.”
It’s a unique position to be in for a young lineman — Onwenu said that ever since Harbaugh first started recruiting him, the prospect of playing both ways has always been on the table. When Onwenu went to camps with other top recruits from around the country, he said even players ranked higher than him didn’t have such an opportunity from their coaches.
Part of the reason for that is his natural speed, which seems counterintuitive given his stature.
“I’ve never been little, but I always had a little quickness,” Onwenu said. “Even when I played little league, I was always kind of the fastest big guy. Now I’ve gained more pounds, so — I mean, I still try to be as fast as I was, but I just try.”
Natural talents aside, Onwenu also has a high-quality training staff and nutritionist at his disposal to maintain his imposing form. Neither he nor the coaching staff has a set weight in mind, but Director of Performance Fergus Connolly has been a helpful guide.
“I’ve got Fergus — that’s my man,” Onwenu said. “Even in the summer, when I was trying to figure out how to lose pounds and gain more muscle, he was just telling me tricks and tips, what I can do. Not so much losing weight, just like trying to fix what I’m eating — eat more healthy stuff or make better choices.”
Whatever choices Onwenu is making seem to be the right ones. As a freshman once touted “my favorite guy right now” by Harbaugh earlier in camp, he figures to see more playing time in the coming weeks as the defensive line continues to heal and the Wolverines take on more low-level competition.
His weight may jump out on paper, but the fruit-fueled lineman with deceptive speed has more to offer his new team on both sides of the ball.