Against Northern Illinois last Wednesday, the University of Toledo football team welcomed a new face to its defense. Because of injuries at the defensive tackle position, Yazeed Atariwa, previously a backup offensive lineman, brought his 300-plus pound frame over to the defensive side of the ball.
The 6-foot-4, 312-pound sophomore from Sterling, Va., filled in admirably, recording two tackles in his first taste of defense since his high school days at Dominion High School.
“It felt great,” Atariwa said. “I haven’t played defense in a while, since I got recruited here. It was just a breath of fresh air. I played everything in high school, nose tackle and defensive end. Coming straight back to it took some getting used to, but after the first couple of drives, I felt like I got a good feel for what was going on.”
Atariwa has appeared in seven games now this season, six coming as an offensive lineman.
He received playing time sparingly at the beginning of the year, but he was about to see more time after injuries also hit the offensive line.
“He was a two-way player in high school and actually came to Toledo as a defensive player,” UT coach Jason Candle said.
“With some of the injuries over there, he’s a 300 pound guy that’s an athletic guy. Give him a lot of credit. It was a very selfless move to go over there and do that, because as you know he was hitting his stride offensively and was really starting to get comfortable.”
Atariwa said he came to the UT coaches and basically offered his services to help the team in any way possible. With some of the banged-up offensive lineman working their way back from injury, the need going forward was on the defensive side of the ball.
“I brought it up to the coaches,” Atariwa said.
“I just asked them if there was anything I could possibly do to help the team win. Because the past couple weeks, I wasn’t getting the amount of time that I personally wanted on offense.
“Then I started to get in the offensive groove. But then a couple of things happened, and now I’m on the defensive side of the ball.”
Atariwa believes that he will continue to play at defensive tackle moving forward.
“I’m still get getting used to it and I have to work on some moves, but I’m definitely going to polish my craft before the next game,” Atariwa said.
In high school, Atariwa recorded 76 tackles and 10 sacks as a senior defensive end, earning first-team all-conference and second-team all-region honors. In 2014, Atariwa sat out as a redshirt before playing in three games as a backup lineman as a freshman last season.
“The main difference is that your attitude is different,” Atariwa said. “On the defensive side, there’s a lot more attitude. You have to have like a ferocious mentality. You have to get in the backfield at all costs. On offense, you know where everything is going. It’s just using your technique to get there. That’s the big difference.”
Candle said the move to defense was a big decision for Atariwa, especially after a good offensive performance against Akron two weeks ago.
“He played really good in the Akron game on offense,” Candle said. “It’s really big for him. It speaks to his character and speaks to the resolve of our football team that at all costs, we will do whatever it takes to win.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.