UM's grape-eating, 375-pound Onwenu unleashes wrath

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan offensive/defensive lineman Michael Onwenu is an enormous 375-pound man, who eats a lot of … grapes.


Onwenu is a massive freshman and the biggest player on the team. His teammates have marveled through camp and even after he played snaps on both sides of the ball last Saturday in Michigan’s season opener against Hawaii, at his ability to move as well as he does considering his size.

“Big Mike is just Big Mike,” Jabrill Peppers said laughing Tuesday night when asked about him.

While meeting with local media for the first time, he was asked what he typically eats during the day.

“I like grapes. I like fruits. I eat a lot of fruits,” Onwenu said, drawing laughs. “I don’t even eat as much as people think I do. I don’t eat a lot of junk food. Sometimes I don’t feel like eating a lot of food, so I’ll take a little snack.”

Onwenu, who attended Detroit Cass Tech, said he’s always been quick.

“I’ve never been little, but I’ve always had a little quickness,” he said. “Even when I played Little League I was the fastest big guy. Now I’ve gained more pounds. I still try to be as fast as I was.”

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Playing on both lines was the norm for him in high school. On the Michigan roster, Onwenu is listed as an offensive lineman, but he said when he took visits to Michigan, he was always told playing both sides would be an option.

“It was never said I was just going to play O-line or D-line,” he said.

Onwenu has played both ways for so long, the possibility of continuing just seems normal. He said playing defense is a bit easier than offense, which requires knowing more steps and technique.

He said he played more offense than defense and feels he can be better at defense once he gets consistent with his technique.

:When I get consistent, I feel like I’ll be dominant,” he said.

Bottom line: He doesn’t have a preference which side he plays if he has to settle on one.

“I feel comfortable on either side because I played both sides in high school, so it’s not like a big difference to me,” Onwenu said. “It’s just more like finding the line (that separates how to play the positions). Sometimes in high school I would get mixed up in my stance. I wouldn’t be more in a D-line stance I’d be more in an O-line stance. That’s just about it.”

He said the second week in preseason camp he was a little surprised when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh asked if he would be interested in trying to play on both sides. When Onwenu responded in the affirmative, Harbaugh sent him to the defensive room to learn the plays.

Onwenu was stunned when he was called in last Saturday to play on defense.

“That was a surprise to me,” he said. “The down had just ended and I had just sat down on the bench and they were like, ‘Mike! Mike!’ and I was looking at the other Mike, Dwumfour (a defensive lineman), but he had just came off the field. Everybody was looking at me, and I’m like, ‘Oh, they want me.’ It was just a big surprise.”

He described stepping foot on the stadium for the first time wearing the uniform as a surreal experience.

“Going out and looking at the scoreboard, looking at the Jumbotron, it was a nice feeling,” he said. “It’s moving really fast. The position I’m in now doesn’t feel real. I’m just taking it in and enjoying it.”

Twitter: @chengelis