Penn State defensive tackle Antonio Shelton looked to the sky as the Nittany Lions broke their team huddle at Celebration High School outside Orlando. “Man, it’s December,” Shelton bellowed. “Global warming is real.”
Teammates laughed along as cornerback Amani Oruwariye simply smiled. The fifth-year senior, getting ready to play in his final game for Penn State, is used to the Florida sun. Standing at the 10-yard line after the Nittany Lions’ second on-site Citrus Bowl practice, the Tampa native felt at home.
“It feels great,” Oruwariye said with an unshakable grin on Friday afternoon. “Being in sunshine with the palm trees is great for anyone. But this is my last chance with my boys to get a dub and go out on the right note.”
It’s fitting, really, that Oruwariye — who took a chance on James Franklin and Penn State, flipping his commitment from Vanderbilt back in 2014 — gets to end his collegiate career in the Sunshine State. The Gaither High School graduate spent his entire career in Big Ten country. He saw New Jersey teammates play in front of family at Rutgers, DMV guys show out at Maryland and WPIAL products do their thing at Heinz Field.
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The closest Oruwariye ever got to home in the regular season? College Park, Md., which is 940 miles from Tampa.
This trip, though, ought to be easier. It’s a brisk 75-mile drive from Oruwariye’s hometown to Camping World Stadium, where he and his teammates face Kentucky on Tuesday. Thankfully for the starter, he’s accumulated IOUs over the years by giving away Rutgers, Maryland and Pitt tickets. Oruwariye said he’s secured 20-25 spots for family and friends already, and he wouldn’t be surprised if that number grows to 30 by kickoff.
“For me, I’m from Jersey. We play Rutgers,” cornerback John Reid said. “But he doesn’t get to come back down here. So it’s cool. It means a lot.”
Added Oruwariye: “My phone’s been blowing up.”
That will likely be the case when the game ends, too. Win or lose, Oruwariye starts a new chapter when the clock hits zero at Camping World Stadium. After the Citrus Bowl, the first-team All-Big Ten selection will start preparing for the NFL draft, where he could make history.
Dating back to 1940, Penn State has had 37 players selected in the first round. None were defensive backs. But Oruwariye might end that drought. As recently as Friday afternoon, the 6-foot-1, 203-pound ballhawk went to the Buccaneers at No. 7 overall in a CBS Sports mock.
In November, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler and WalterFootball.com pegged Penn State’s 2017 team leader in INTs as a second- or third-round pick. But Terry Smith, the corner’s position coach, thinks he can go in the first round after recording 15 passes defended in 2018, the second-highest mark in the Big Ten.
“God willing, it would be a blessing for Amani and his family. It would be a blessing for us at Penn State, too,” Smith told reporters on Thursday. “We’re trying to build DB nation here. We’ve got seven or eight guys in the league right that we’ve coached over the last five years. This thing is growing and growing fast. … Amani would be a huge step for the program.”
It would be a leap for Oruwariye, as well. Coming out of Tampa, he was the No. 696 prospect in the country, per 247 Sports. Oruwariye, a three-star DB, had 15 offers from Power 5 schools. But it was the Wake Forests, Minnesotas and Georgia Techs of the college football world who sought his signature, not Alabama or Georgia.
Oruwariye didn’t even crack the top-100 prospects from the state of Florida. Now, the senior’s preparing to play his final collegiate game in the Sunshine State, looking to cement a first-round spot in April’s draft an hour-and-a-half away from home.
“I try to push that aside right now and focus on the task at-hand,” Oruwariye said. “But that would be a huge accomplishment. That would be really cool for me and my family.”