UCLA’s Otito Ogbonnia aspires to compete in the Olympics — and lead a fierce pass rush

Coach Chip Kelly gets ready to run the Bruins through practice at Wasserman Football Center on July 31.
Bruins coach Chip Kelly gets ready to run the team through practice. The coach has encouraged players to find joy in the success of their teammates.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

There’s a new one-word entry in the Chip Kelly motivational playbook that includes phrases such as “Win the day!” and “Water the bamboo.”

It’s mudita.

The UCLA football coach borrowed the phrase from the Alabama softball team, sophomore defensive lineman Tyler Manoa said Friday, but its origins can be traced to the Buddhist practice of experiencing sympathetic joy like one friend observing another’s success.

The Bruins were able to experience the phenomenon last month.

Mudita for Otito,” Manoa said.

That would be sophomore defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia, who won a gold medal at the Pan American under-20 championships in Costa Rica by posting a throw of 20.72 meters in the shotput.


The showing made Ogbonnia acknowledge he harbored aspirations of competing in Tokyo 2020. But first comes Cincinnati 2019.

The Bruins will open the season on the road against the Bearcats on Aug. 29, and Ogbonnia wants to lead a fierce pass rush after his team logged only 15 sacks in 2018, tied for the fewest in the Pac-12 Conference.

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“It’s a completely different mentality in terms of getting to the quarterback,” said Ogbonnia, who made 21 tackles last season but is still seeking his first college sack. “We know the ball’s everything — sacking the quarterback, getting strip sacks. We know how much it changes the game to get a sack.”

Ogbonnia said he’s manned all three positions along the defensive line during training camp to increase his versatility and knowledge of each spot. He’s a likely starter alongside sophomore Atonio Mafi and redshirt junior Osa Odighizuwa.

The Bruins have spent part of their film sessions comparing themselves to NFL defensive linemen to see where they can improve.

“Seeing their demeanor, their activity, their emotion when they’re rushing the passer,” Ogbonnia said of the professional players, “I think that’s what’s going to change and help us rush the passer this season.”

Ogbonnia has been able to observe a few of the NFL’s top defensive linemen up close since his arrival last season, with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald having worked out at the Bruins’ training facility.

“It’s always fun meeting those guys and getting whatever knowledge they have,” Ogbonnia said. “Even in the season sometimes they’re here on their off days, and it’s always cool to see how much extra work they’re putting in, what it takes to be at that level and stay at that level with injuries and recovery.”


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New meaning?

According to its formal usage, a person feeling mudita is not supposed to derive any direct benefit from the accomplishments of another person.

But the Bruins have adopted their own interpretation of the word: If the defense forces a turnover and gets the ball back for the offense, everybody on the team gets to enjoy it.

“Someone got [an interception] today,” Manoa said, “and everybody was celebrating with him and we bring some good juice to the defense.”

The energetic vibes were especially beneficial for a defensive line that Manoa said had been “up and down” with its energy in recent practices.

“Just trying to help each other and give good energy has helped us not be tired and not think about ourselves when we’re in those fatigued stages,” Manoa said. “Just help somebody else and bring the energy of our group up and we’re able to produce.”