Kingsley Ugwu left Tucson two years ago after his graduation at Sahuaro High School to Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College to see how he could fit in as a lineman at the next level.
Ugwu, a towering 6-foot-4 and 305-pound tackle, has proven himself ready to elevate to the highest level of college football, as indicated by his growing number of scholarship offers by FBS Power 5 programs.
“He didn’t get many looks coming out (of Sahuaro),” said former Cougar offensive line coach Daniel Sainz, now the head coach at Catalina Foothills. “That was the same time with Pima and the Arizona JUCOs shut down so the opportunities were even fewer. Hutch gave him a chance and he’s just seized the opportunity.”
Ugwu and Hutchinson’s traditionally strong program will be on national television at 2 p.m. Saturday when the Blue Dragons (7-0) play Snow (Utah) College (8-0) in the NJCAA championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark.
Former Ironwood Ridge running back Soma Helu is a sophomore with Snow College.
The game, on CBS Sports Network, will provide a way for extended family and friends to finally get to see Ugwu since he left for Hutchinson. Because of COVID-19 last year, Ugwu said his time has been limited being around close ones in Tucson.
“It’s been a really long journey,” said Ugwu, who graduated from Sahuaro with honors in 2019 after completing his third year at the varsity level in the 2018 season. “It’s been probably the longest two years of my life with Covid and all the ups and downs I’ve had being away from home.”
The ups have outweighed the downs in terms of his football career and his grades — a 3.11 GPA as an Architecture student — at Hutchinson.
He has earned 14 scholarship offers, including from Baylor, Colorado, and most recently, Texas Tech. He said Arizona defensive analyst Beyah Rasool, a former Rincon/University standout, has been in communication with him.
“I’ve been working for two full years now since I got here (to Hutchinson), and it’s cool to know we finally get to do it,” Ugwu said of the Blue Dragons’ first championship game in its 23rd postseason appearance. “We’re running, lifting, all the work — everything — classroom … it all means a lot.
“We have to do what we’ve been doing, keep working, staying out of trouble and lock in.”
Ugwu played football through his younger years with the Tucson Youth Football & Spirit Federation and he was also an accomplished discus thrower from his elementary school days through his Sahuaro career.
He was known as being one of Sahuaro’s most affable students of the Class of 2019.
“Just an awesome kid,” Sainz mentioned. “Huge on the field and an even bigger personality off of it. He set goals for himself at the next level both on the field and in the classroom and he has absolutely crushed it to get where he is today.”
Ugwu said he is “humbled, yet proud of myself” for sticking to his goal of elevating his skills at Hutchinson for larger opportunities at the FBS level of college football, particularly with a Power 5 program.
“So far I feel like I’ve done everything that I said I would,” he said.
Ugwu told his friends and coaches at Sahuaro when he graduated that he is determined to play in the NFL.
He certainly is headed in the right direction.
“There isn’t a better young man to be around; he has earned all of these amazing opportunities by his dedication and hard work to be the best he can be,” Sainz said. “I could not be more proud of what he has done to get to this point and he’s nowhere near done yet.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District