CORVALLIS — Ever since arriving at Oregon State, Obum Gwacham has periodically-yet-consistently fielded a proposal from Beavers defensive line coach Joe Seumalo.
Ditch playing receiver and switch to defensive end, the coach would tell the big-bodied athlete.
Seumalo is finally getting his wish. After three largely unsuccessful seasons on offense, Gwacham is hoping to carve out a new role as part of a defensive end rotation trying to make up for the production lost when Scott Crichton declared early for the NFL Draft.
It’s a senior-season change Gwacham has welcomed, calling his first work at the position new, interesting and fun. And that eagerness, combined with Gwacham’s physical tools, excites Beavers coach Mike Riley.
“It was one of the easiest transitions I’ve ever made in a position switch,” Riley said. “When I called him in to talk to him (in the winter), he had already heard about it and was excited about it.
“He is such a good worker, it will not surprise me (if) he does well.”
Gwacham has always possessed the premier size (he sports a 6-5, 230-pound frame today), long arms and supreme athleticism (he has cleared 7-foot-2 in the high jump) that many expected would make him a matchup nightmare for defenders and an ideal red zone target. He was often pegged a potential breakout player in the preseason, especially when he entered last spring atop the depth chart at split end.
But those physical tools never translated to results at receiver, primarily due to struggles catching the football. In three seasons, Gwacham tallied just 11 total receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown.
So as the 2013 season wound down, Beavers coaches revisited the idea of trying Gwacham at a new spot.
Defensive end, of course.
And when Seumalo approached Gwacham about the change, he was immediately on board.
“The second he called me up and told me, I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’” Gwacham said.
Gwacham then had to bulk up his body during winter conditioning.
He lifted weights twice a day. He adopted a “see food” diet — “you see it, you eat it” — that included four servings of protein a day, along with heavy doses of starch and vegetables. He also worked on drills almost daily with former Beavers defensive lineman Andrew Seumalo and current offensive linemen.
That all helped make this first week of spring practice less jarring. Still, Gwacham admitted offensive lineman Austin Johnson overpowered him during one of Friday’s first contact drills. He then stayed after practice to do some extra work.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker was curious to watch Gwacham’s progress on film following Friday’s practice.
“The biggest thing to begin with is just the physicality,” Banker said. “(It’s) a little bit different going from wide open spaces to right in the thick of the battle. We’ll see how that transitions.
“We know he’s a good athlete. We’ll see how we can use that 7-foot-2 high jumper as a defensive end.”
Right now, junior Jaswha James and redshirt freshman Titus Failagua are listed ahead of Gwacham at left end on the depth chart. But Gwacham ultimately hopes his speed can help him explode off the edge quickly, and that his height and wingspan can help him bat passes down at the line of scrimmage. He also hopes to beef up to 250 pounds by fall camp.
Gwacham is, of course, disappointed his physical potential at receiver never panned out. That’s the position he always wanted to play.
Yet he’s optimistic this new role on defense will allow him to — finally — make an impact in his final season.
“This has been a second chance, I guess,” Gwacham said. “I’m hoping I can take it and run with it and make something special happen with it.”