National pundits often critique head coach Josh Heupel for Tennessee's defense, equating poor on-field performance to Heupel disregarding the defensive side.
That couldn't be further from the truth. Heupel is still attempting to bring his recruits into the program and still has a fair amount of players that signed under the Jeremy Pruitt regime.
Defensive lineman Williams Nwaneri is an excellent example of where Tennessee hopes to move defensively. Nwaneri is one of the best front-seven players in America, but his skillset looks different from others.
Strong Hand Fighter
Nwaneri has exceptional hand-to-eye coordination for someone of his size. He's listed at 6-5 and 245 lbs. yet he gets off the ball quickly and routinely gets his hands in the correct place.
Offensive lineman attempt to swat his hands away, but Nwaneri can quickly counter that. He may rip through, transfer his leverage into a swim move, or push his hands through his assignment's chest.
Good defensive linemen pack a strong punch in their hands, but that doesn't consistently work in college. The best have several counters they can revert to, and Nwaneri has many.
Advanced Pass Rusher
Edge rusher is the only defensive line spot where you can win purely off traits and tools in college. You must have defined skills to rush the passer when you kick inside.
Nwaneri plays 4i, 3-tech, and 5-tech for Lee's Summit North High School in Missouri. He faces some strong competition yet wins most of his pass rush reps because of his setup.
He plays with an evenly distributed base and explodes off the line. Nwaneri can move forward while making sudden, explosive lower-body movements. This throws offensive lineman off, and he uses his hands to do the rest.
Some recruiting outlets have Nwaneri as a top 5 player and the No. 1 defensive lineman in the 2024 class. It would be easy to focus on that as a high schooler and become complacent.
However, the only thing Nwaneri cares about is winning football games. He plays special teams for Lee's Summit North, fighting through the whistle to create chances for his teammates.
Lee's Summit North went 12-2 and won the state title in 2022. Nwaneri played most snaps and did something new each week, showing a unique commitment to the game plan, preparation, his coaching staff, and teammates.
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