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Huskies’ efforts to recruit Levi Onwuzurike out of Texas are starting to pay off

A star at powerhouse Allen High School outside Dallas, Levi Onwuzurike is starting to realize some of his potential at UW too.

They like to say that everything is bigger in Texas.

And, if that’s true, then everything is biggest in Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb that’s home to one of the Huskies’ most touted defensive-line recruits in recent years.

Allen High School in 2017 had the largest enrollment of any Texas high school, with some 6,600 students. Its football stadium, built at a cost of $60 million in 2012, seats 18,000. Its marching band, with some 800 members, is three times larger than the University of Washington marching band.

Levi Onwuzurike was one of Allen High’s best players at a program that won 57 consecutive games and three state titles from 2012 to 2015. As a junior in 2014, Onwuzurike (pronounced own-zur-EE-kay) helped Allen to a 16-0 record and a Class 6A championship. As a senior in 2015, he was named the Dallas-area’s defensive player of the year by The Dallas Morning News.

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“It’s huge,” Onwuzurike said Tuesday, when asked to described the football climate at Allen. “It gets you ready for college. It’s mostly the coaching. At Allen, our coaches had us lifting the way we lift here. Everything was just on another level.”

Washington co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski went to another level to recruit Levi Onwuzurike to Seattle. From December 2015 and January 2016, Kwiatkowski flew to Texas every week during a six-week recruiting window to visit Onwuzurike in person at Allen.

It helped that UW played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2015 season, and a few weeks after that bowl game — on Jan. 20, 2016 — Kwiatkowski was pleasantly surprised to see a tweet from Onwuzurike announcing his commitment to the Huskies.

And that was a “big get,” coach?

“Heck, yeah,” Kwiatkowski said. “I worked my tail off recruiting him. He was one of those guys who kept it close to the vest until he tweeted it. I didn’t know until he tweeted it. He never let on at all.”

Onwuzurike, ranked by one recruiting service as the No. 101 player in the nation in the Class of 2016, chose the Huskies over Michigan, Baylor and Arizona State. He said Georgia was also in the mix.

In the early stages of his recruitment, he admitted he knew nothing about Washington.

“Not at all,” he said. “I wasn’t even aware of it.”

Few in Allen knew much about the Huskies.

“I think everybody was surprised, to be honest,” he said of his commitment to UW.

Onwuzurike said he had his heart set on leaving Texas. He’s a good student — he named last year to the Pac-12’s all-academic second team — and liked what UW had to offer academically.

The academic piece, Kwiatkowski said, is a significant factor when UW coaches choose to recruit any player, and especially so when coaches decide to spent additional time and resources to pursue a recruit who lives outside the Huskies’ traditional West Coast footprint.

“Dallas is an area for us (in recruiting), but there’s a lot of competition there for those guys and we’ve got to pick and choose,” Kwiatkowski. “He was an ‘academic’ guy and he was intrigued about leaving the state of Texas. When you recruit someone like that, you can feel good about investing more time and trying to battle for him.”

Onwuzurike’s favorite thing about Seattle?

“The weather. Texas football — I love it, but the weather is terrible. It’s so hot,” he said.

A third-year sophomore, the 6-foot-3, 282-pound Onwuzurike is starting to become a fan favorite on the defensive line. With senior Shane Bowman expected to miss about six weeks with a broken foot, Onwuzurike made his first career start in last Saturday’s victory over BYU. Through five games, he has 10 tackles, one for a loss.

“Levi played very well,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “Levi’s got a lot of upside. He continues to flash and he just needs more reps in there and continue to play at that high level and he can do some really good stuff for us.”

On Saturday, Onwuzurike will make his first trip to the Rose Bowl for the Huskies’ game against UCLA (4:30 p.m., Fox). Junior defensive back Myles Bryant, a Pasadena native, has been excitedly telling teammates how great the iconic venue is. Onwuzurike is skeptical.

“He’s always telling us it’s a great place,” Onwuzurike said. “I don’t think it will be, but we’ll see.”

Why is that?

“Texas is just better than Cali, period.”

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