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Friday, August 29, 2014
Gwacham's transition from slot WR to DE

By Chantel Jennings

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- What feels better -- scoring a touchdown or sacking a quarterback?

Saturday, when the Beavers take on Portland State, Oregon State defensive end Obum Gwacham -- who’s currently listed as the back up right end behind Dylan Wynn -- has the opportunity to answer that question.

Typically the people who find the end zone and the ones who take quarterbacks to the ground are not the same people. For the past three seasons, Gwacham has been a slot receiver for the Beavers. But he wasn’t heavily used due to other players stepping up and a few nagging injuries. He appeared in 38 games and only caught 11 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown, which triggered the move to the defensive line.

And with the move, and his one touchdown catch in hand, he could move into a select group who knows which is better -- TD or sack? There are actually quite a few guys who could help Gwacham find the answer.

Since 2000, there have been 96 players who’ve both recorded a touchdown reception and tallied a sack during their college careers (starting with the 2000 season) according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the Pac-12, over that same time span, there have been 12 players to accomplish both. And at Oregon State? There has only been one other -- Gabe Miller.

Like Miller, several of those players who were able to accomplish both were tight ends. The transition from tight end to defensive end seems a bit more manageable and one that makes a certain amount of sense. But to go from slot to pass-rusher? That’s a bit more difficult.

Oregon State defensive line coach Joe Seumalo first brought up the idea last season and knew that if Gwacham committed to changing his diet and exercise routines, that he’d be able to successfully make the transition to the other side of the ball -- and into the trenches -- by the fall.

This meant that Gwacham needed to spend more time with strength and conditioning coach Bryan Miller, who stressed one principle: Don’t panic.

“If they’re a good athlete, if they have good genetics, if they take care of going through the steps in a logical manner, it should happen,” Miller said. “When people hit the panic button … a lot of times it backfires.”

Lucky for Miller, Gwacham had the athletic ability, genetics and level head to take the process step-by-step.

Oregon State's Obam Gwacham
Obum Gwacham before
The next step was getting Gwacham to focus on his nutrition, and a big part of that was getting Gwacham to eat at the right times of the day. It's harder than it sounds considering Gwacham was balancing football, classes and a personal life.

Breakfast, Miller explained, was the most critical because it’s so easy for most people -- especially tired, college athletes -- to skip breakfast. Then, Gwacham needed to make sure he was eating immediately after the workout and then another solid meal 45 minutes after the workouts. Those foods don’t even account for big, nutritious lunches and dinner, plus a high-caloric snack before bed.

“The whole process of gaining weight,” Miller said, “is you being uncomfortably full at every meal. A lot of people go to dinner and eat a big dinner and think, ‘Oh my, I’m so full,’ but you look at the rest of the meals through the day and it was nothing. They have to do that at every meal.”

On top of that, he needed to do fewer speed workouts and more lifting.

After focusing on those elements through the winter, the spring season wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be, Gwacham said. He was able to hold his ground for the most part even though he was lined up against offensive linemen who were pushing 300 pounds. Meanwhile, Gwacham’s body -- still moving up the scale -- was south of those numbers, sometimes by nearly 75 pounds.

Oregon State's Obum Gwachum
Obum Gwacham after
But he pushed that aside and tried to focus on making himself as comfortable as possible as fast as possible in the spring so everything would come as second-nature in the summer and fall.

“I kind of thought of it as: as a receiver, I was always going up against a DB -- you’ve got to give them a move and try to get by them,” Gwacham said. “It’s almost similar with playing D-end. The guy you’re going up against is a little bigger, he could be a little quicker but I feel like I’m more athletic and I think I’m faster than them so I have to use what I have to work to go against them.”

Last March, Gwacham weighed in at 220 pounds with 7.1 percent body fat. In July, he finished at 240 pounds and just 7.9 percent body fat, meaning he gained 19.4 pounds of muscle.

Miller said he has seen players gain more weight than Gwacham was asked to gain, but the fact that he retained his speed and explosiveness through the whole process is incredibly impressive.

Whether the payoff is worth it or not will show itself this season. As a wide receiver, he only scored one touchdown. But on Saturday, he’ll line up in the trenches for the first time. And maybe after he faces Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh, he’ll be able to really know whether it’s more satisfying to score a touchdown or take down a signal caller.

“It’s hard to rank them,” Gwacham said. “After that first sack, I guess we’ll see.”