CHICAGO — When the Penn State defense takes the field for its 2018 season opener Sept. 1 against Appalachian State, fifth-year senior Amani Oruwariye likely will be a starting cornerback.

Oruwariye was a second-team all-Big Ten performer last season, and this will be his 36th game with the Nittany Lions – and the first start of his career.

Overlooked, perhaps?

"Yeah, people say that," Oruwariye said Monday at Big Ten football media days. "I knew what I was capable of doing and I knew once I got the opportunity, as long as I was healthy and everything, I would take advantage, and I think that's what I did."

Coming off the bench, like a sixth man in basketball, the 6-foot-1, 201-pound Tampa native has been a valuable contributor on a defense that rotates a lot of players in the secondary. Oruwariye snared a team-high four interceptions last season, received postseason recognition, and even considered going through the NFL draft evaluation process.

"The thought did cross my mind," he said, "but I just knew in my gut that there was more left on the table and that I needed to come back and take that leadership role and just be a leader."

It was a rather crowded Lions defensive backfield last season. Starting corners Grant Haley and Christian Campbell are now in NFL training camps, as are safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke. With St. Joseph's Prep graduate John Reid, a 2016 honorable-mention all-conference pick, sitting out with a knee injury, freshman Tariq Castro-Fields showed promise.

Now, Reid is back to start opposite Oruwariye and Castro-Fields provides quality depth. The graduation losses hurt, but Oruwariye thinks the unit will be a force.

"I think we will surprise people," he said. "I think the fact that we lost four starters, people are going to be sleeping on us, and I think that they don't really realize that we're always ready. We always have that next-man-up mentality, and with the guys in our locker room and the guys in our secondary, I think they're all ready to go, ready to step up and fill those roles."

Amani Oruwariye coming down with an interception in front of Akron’s Fransohn Bickley last season.
Chris Knight / AP
Amani Oruwariye coming down with an interception in front of Akron’s Fransohn Bickley last season.

With quarterback Trace McSorley, Oruwariye is one of the last two remaining players to have committed to James Franklin at Vanderbilt for the freshman class of 2014, then followed the head coach to Happy Valley after he accepted the job with the Nittany Lions.

It was a bit of a shock for Oruwariye when he decided to give Penn State a look.

"I went there, saw snow for the first time," he said. "But I got to hang around some high-class, cool guys and it was just good energy there. I got to learn all about the tradition, got to see the stadium, got to see a lot of cool stuff that I never saw before. It was a place that just stuck out to me. I just knew it was the right place for me."

As one of 12 fifth-year seniors on the roster, Oruwariye is committed to being a leader, "to be a lot more verbal, have those tough conversations with guys, try to just step up." His concern is the team. He is reluctant to discuss his personal goals.

"I just try to take it day by day and bring these guys up to scale with me, and try to be the best secondary we can," he said. "I think if I do everything I can and get the team success, do whatever I've got to do for our secondary, personal accolades will come."