Prep football: Hulking sophomore powers Skyline D line
At first, it was all about the intimidation factor. It's not often a team of scrappy teenagers faces more than 6 feet and 300 pounds on the defensive line.
Indeed, size was the reason Skyline nose guard Machi Ubani had the rare opportunity to experience Friday night lights as a 14-year-old freshman last season.
Talent and drive have kept him there.
"He's a huge part of our defense," first-year Skyline coach Steve Marlowe said. "He's got a really big heart, and everyone appreciates him."
Ubani, now a sophomore, knows his size alone will draw the attention of college recruiters. That size, in combination with his quick feet, high football IQ and fierce competitive drive, all suggest he's someone with a huge amount of potential and a lengthy football pedigree.
But Ubani is a self-made man. His father, a native of Nigeria, was a competitive soccer player before moving to the United States to attend the University of Utah. His older brother C.J. played running back and corner for the Eagles but weighed all of 160 pounds. His mother, who was born in Mexico, is a reluctant fan of the game.
Still, Ubani's potential always was apparent to his family. C.J. points to countless friendly turned fiercely competitive wrestling matches at home as a sign of what was to come.
"He's got the raw talent and the size to do it," C.J. Ubani said. "If he can keep his grades up and not get injured, he's got a clear window."
His coaches work under the same guided optimism, though they'd like him to turn a few of those pounds into more raw muscle. If he can do that and continue to improve his game, a college scholarship is within reach, they say.
Early letters from Oregon and LSU legitimize the hope.
"I've promised my mom I'll stay in state," Ubani said. "But Oregon sounds really nice."
So, Ubani also understands his potential. More so, he understands what making it at the next level will mean for himself and his family.
"If I make it, I just want to help my family with everything," Ubani said. "They've done everything for me, so I'll do anything they ask me to do."
But first things first.
Even as Ubani dreams of the future, his present is grounded in the daily grind. He's got homework to do and an eager tutor who has helped him excel in every subject, though chemistry is his favorite.
"I like doing experiments, seeing how things work," Ubani said.
"He's a good student," C.J. Ubani said. "Our dad makes sure of that."
He's an even better scholar of the game and spends hours reviewing game film to prepare for the coming week. This week's studies are focused on a Friday night test against rival Olympus.
"We want to win a region championship. We need to beat [Olympus] and get the rock back," Ubani said. "And like everyone, we are going for the state championship."
No matter the result this weekend or this season, Ubani already has made a sizable impact at Skyline. He's not the only one who hopes his game won't end in an Eagles uniform.
"We're just trying to prepare him, to keep a level head," C.J. Ubani said. "For us, as a family, it's more about preparation than hope. We know he can do it."
Skyline nose guard Machi Ubani's size, strength and potential have caught the eye of many top Division I programs despite his barely being 16 years old.
Ubani racked up 43 tackles and two sacks as a freshman. He's notched 35 tackles and two sacks so far this season, with a regular-season rivalry game against Olympus and the postseason still ahead.