This past Saturday, Owamagbe Odighizuwa sat in the Rose Bowl stands, high above his teammates. Sidelined after undergoing two offseason hip surgeries, the defensive end watched UCLA pummel Nevada, 58-20 — the first time since 2009 that he watched the Bruins in person from somewhere other than the field.
“It was awkward to be honest,” he said. “For three years, I’ve been playing. To be sitting in the stands, I felt almost like a recruit.”
This time, however, he knew the schemes and playcalls. Through his 38 games at UCLA, he was always locked into his own assignment. Sitting with his brother and his friends, he could look down and see how each piece fit within the defense, watch each play as it unfolded: “It was a little bit weird.”
He’s still itching to go back. After making 44 tackles as a junior, Odighizuwa needed surgery to repair fraying in his right hip. Just before spring practices started, he felt pain in his left hip and went through a second surgery — one that is forcing him to redshirt the 2013 season.
There are signs of progress. He has spent the bulk of the past several months on physical therapy, strengthening his hips and increasing flexibility. This Tuesday, he returned to the field for the first time since the operation, finally able to put on shoulder pads and begin acclimating his body to running.
“It’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time,” Odighizuwa said. “Just being patient. It was great. It was good to be with the team, start working, getting the cobwebs out of my legs.”
The symptoms still nag him. Sometimes it’s stiffness or aching pain. Other times, he just feels weak.
“I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s part of the process, that you’re not going to feel totally 100 percent right away … At this point, I think it’s expected,” Odighizuwa said. “Two surgeries will slow things down.”
Added head coach Jim Mora: “I love his progress, but I don’t think we’ll see him at all this year.”
— The grass on Spaulding Field was infected by a fungus this summer, causing part of it to die off and become sandy. Mora said sod would be brought in from Texas to replace the practice field over the weekend. Workers started tearing out the bad turf as soon as the Bruins finished practice Thursday afternoon.
— Running back Damien Thigpen was slated to participate in some contact for the first time since tearing his ACL last year, but remained in a red jersey on Thursday. Mora said the senior could potentially return for the team’s Pac-12 opener at Utah next month.
“Physically, he’s in pretty decent shape,” Mora said. “I don’t think he’s 100 percent, but I think now he just has to work on the mental part of it. Being in traffic, taking some hits, things like that. He’ll work through that.”