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Former Portland State safety finds NFL game takes lots of study/



COURTESY: BALTIMORE RAVENS - ONWUASORRANDALLASTOWN, Maryland —┬áIt’s been another hot and humid summer in the mid-Atlantic region. By mid-August, central Maryland had had 38 days of at least 90 degrees, already six more than the summer average.

Those sweltering, sticky days have been an adjustment for Patrick Onwuasor. The former Portland State free safety is a rookie linebacker in camp with the Baltimore Ravens after signing as a non-drafted free agent.

Onwuasor sweats easily in the midday sun at the Under Armour Performance Center at 1 Winning Drive. But some of his biggest tests come in the air-conditioned classrooms of this spacious, modern facility that is home to the two-time Super Bowl champions.

Onwuasor, listed at 6-0, 217 pounds, says the biggest surprise at the pro level is what it takes off the field and studying the thick playbook.

“Probably the studies in the room,” Onwuasor says after a morning workout. “You learn 10 plays in one day and then you have to go out there and run those 10 plays. You really have to do a lot of studying.”

Ah, running those — that has not been a problem. Thanks to his background with coach Bruce Barnum’s Vikings, the Southern California native has brought his penchant for big hits to the NFL preseason.

In one early August sequence, he put a memorable hit on fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-year player who took exception to the blow.

“That’s part of my motivation. That’s how I usually play,” Onwuasor says of hitting hard. “I’m an aggressive player. Playing safety at Portland State, I used to come up in the box.”

Do the Baltimore coaches tell him to tone it down?

“Not really. They like it,” Onwuasor says. “They like to see guys flying around (on defense). They come up and say ‘Keep it going.’ Afterward, they come up and tell me it was a good hit.”

Onwuasor, who turned 24 on Monday, is playing for a franchise where retired All-Pro Ray Lewis defined the position of middle linebacker. Onwuasor has yet to meet Lewis, but he has received encouragement from linebackers coach Don Martindale.

“He always tells me I can play linebacker. I thought I was undersized. He is really patient with me,” Onwuasor says. “He’s a great coach. He slows everything down, and I like that a lot.”

Onwuasor was voted second in the nation among FCS defenders last year, but this would be a big step.

“It’s been fun and exciting,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, and a lot of the rookies are going through the same thing.”

One player Onwuasor looks up to with the Ravens is Zachary Orr, a third-year inside linebacker out of North Texas.

“Zach has shown me the ropes,” Onwuasor says. “I like the (defensive) program a lot.”

Onwuasor earned FCS All-America and all-Big Sky honors after starting 12 games as a senior. He helped Portland State to a record of 9-3 and led FCS with nine interceptions (with 157 return yards). He also had 85 tackles, 49 solo.

He graduated from Portland State with a degree in social science after beginning his college career at Arizona, where he played in 12 games, with one start, in 2012 before getting kicked out of school because of criminal charges later dropped.

What are his chances of making the Ravens’ roster?

“I have a good chance,” he says. “I have to play hard on special teams and just keep fighting with everything I’ve got. I played some special teams in college. That is my first priority; a big part of it.

“I have to learn technique stuff and learn the schemes and learn things that our (defensive) coach wants us to learn.”

David Driver is a free-lance writer in Maryland. He can be reached at davidsdriver.com.