Home UVA O lineman Ugonna Nnanna looking to get back in starting lineup after rough 2023

UVA O lineman Ugonna Nnanna looking to get back in starting lineup after rough 2023

Chris Graham
uva ugonna nnanna
Photo: UVA Athletics

Ugonna Nnanna got out to a rough start as the starting right tackle at Virginia last season, allowing three sacks in the 49-13 loss to Tennessee in Nashville in Week 1.

Nnanna, a transfer from Houston, where he’d only gotten 28 snaps total in three seasons before relocating in the spring of 2023, was a starter for the first six weeks, allowing eight sacks and 17 QB pressures on 203 pass dropbacks, grading out, according to Pro Football Focus, at 41.7, the second-lowest grade for the O line unit in 2023.

Nnanna only got 21 snaps in the second half of the season as offensive-line coach Terry Heffernan went to Blake Steen (PFF grade: 51.0) and Jimmy Christ (PFF grade: 41.6) at right tackle down the stretch.

Nnanna, a 6’4”, 309-pound grad senior, is hoping to use 2024 spring practice to get back into the starting lineup in the fall.

“The main thing is, kind of eliminate all distractions and focusing on myself,” Nnanna told reporters last week. “If I can focus on myself, focus on what I have to do and listen to the instruction the coach has given me, and be intentional in the coaching that he’s given me, then that’s when I can see that jump to being more consistent, in the starting lineup, and sort of just showcasing that I can bring that consistency to the O line as needed.”

Nnanna has been getting reps this spring at both the guard and tackle positions, in line with Heffernan’s edict to his guys that they learn how to play multiple positions.

“All that matters is just that versatility of being able to play both sides, so whenever I’m called, whenever my number’s called, for whatever side I’m needed to play, I’m prepared to do that,” Nnanna said.

It helps that he’s had a year in the Virginia offense, and a year under Heffernan, who was also new coming in this time last year, after taking over as the O line coach ahead of the spring-practice schedule.

“More calm, much more confident, much more comfortable,” Nnanna said, describing his approach to his second spring practice at UVA. “So, just being able to get those repetitions, repeat the plays, and getting the reps and talking to Coach over stuff that I may be confused about. The second time, it’s much more easier, much more seamless. Now, I’m quicker to ask the questions, now, I’m quicker to know my alignment and my assignments so much better.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].