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Maturity, focus propels senior to defensive leader

Published: Thursday, September 8, 2011

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:05

football

Bob Corral / The Prospector

Senior defensive end Bernard Obi (left) chases the ball handler during a practice at Glory Field.

Keeping his teammates focused and united, senior defensive end Bernard Obi hopes to lead the veteran Miner defense to a successful 2011 football season.

Returning seven first-team defenders from last season, Obi stands as one of three players to start in at least 12 games last year.

"I think I have progressed a lot. I have become more focused here than I would have at any other school," Obi said. "It's a laid-back town and not a lot of distractions out here. I can just focus on football and I think that is how I've become a better athlete. It allows me to just focus on my game."

Last season, Obi started at right end, finishing with 27 tackles. He had over three tackles for a loss, including two sacks and a forced fumble.

During his sophomore year in 2009, where he never started a single game, Obi had career-highs with six tackles against Houston Oct. 3 and two sacks against Rice Nov. 21. His best showing came that year against number-12 ranked Houston when he had two tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery, as well.

In the 2011 season opener versus Stony Brook Sept. 3, Obi had one tackle, assisting with one tackle for a loss.

Defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said Obi offers a lot to the team in terms of ability and talent.

"As a football player, he brings speed, physicality, tenacity and he is a very cerebral player…he is very smart," Patterson said. "Bernard is the leader of the defensive line, saying the right words to keep the guys going and does a great job of keeping these guys focused."

Obi's teammates believe in his ability on the field, and appreciate the leadership qualities he possesses off the field.

"Oh man, he is a leader on and off the field," senior cornerback Travaun Nixon said. "In the weight room, he is one of the strongest guys and he is making sure people are doing stuff right. Off the field, he's just like a big brother."

His aspiration is to reach the NFL level, but he is not limiting himself to just that.

"I want to have a chance to go to the NFL," Obi said. "If I don't make it there, I want to finish my degree, which I should in May (2012) to become a sports broadcaster, go into sports journalism somewhere or become a coach."

Nixon said that people should not let Obi's stalwart build frighten them and that underneath the brawn is a pleasant person.

"He looks big and swollen, but talks very soft," Nixon said. "He's not that quiet, but he is a little different than what he portrays as a person. I thought he was going to be all big and mean since he's on the d-line, but he's a cool dude."

As for Patterson, he said he admires Obi for his personal qualities.

"He is a great guy. He is the kind of guy that I hope my son would grow up to be," Patterson said. "He treats people with respect and that is why I like the guy so much."

Obi said he has become accustomed to the serene and tranquil lifestyle El Paso offers.

"It's been great, the people here are really nice. At first I didn't think I would like it. It's my senior year and now I love it here," Obi said. "It's a quiet laid-back city and I've gotten used to the lifestyle out here. I really like it a lot."

His father is a doctor, but Obi said there is no pressure from his parents to pursue that level of education. Instead they support him in every way possible.

"They are just proud of me for being able to play football and having a good education," Obi said. "They want me to do the best I can in whatever I want to do, but there is no pressure from them to be a doctor or anything like that."

Being Obi's senior year at UTEP, he reflects back on why he chose El Paso in the first place.

"They were my only serious offer coming out of high school about letting me play for them," Obi said. "So I decided UTEP was the best place for me."

Frankie Rodriguez may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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