FRISCO, Texas — Quiet as it's kept, there's a breakout star on the interior of the Dallas Cowboys defensive line as well, though often overshadowed by the generational greatness of Micah Parsons and the continued elite play by longtime defensive leader DeMarcus Lawrence; and that person is Osa Odighizuwa.
The 25-year-old entered the league alongside Parsons in 2021 but as the third-round pick of the Cowboys, and it didn't take him long to start making an impact for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn — the former First-Team All-Pac 12 talent finishing his second season with a career-high four sacks at defensive tackle (doubling his rookie output in that category).
Having already produced three sacks through the first two games, he's on track to shatter that number in 2023.
"If someone makes a play, you're like, 'I want a piece of that, too. Let me go make one,'" said Odighizuwa of the added motivation provided by his teammates' ability to be dominant. "It just gives you an extra piece of energy. This is energy-generated football.
"A guy makes a play and it sparks something in the rest of the defense."
There's a lot more to the explanation of exactly why Odighizuwa has continued to take massive year-over-year leaps in his first three seasons, though. For one, he's a former three-time heavyweight champion in wrestling (landing the three-peat at UCLA) — going 91-0 in matchups in his final two collegiate seasons and, of course, lettering in the process.
That gives him a unique set of skills, to borrow a famous line from Liam Neeson, that has … taken … well to what the Cowboys need and the coaching that Quinn and his staff provides.
Additionally, he's taken up boxing to help with his hand skills, but that's not all.
"Just continuing to learn the system," he said of his early third-year jump. "I've learned the game and things are slowing down a little bit more. I'm consistently working on my hands, and consistently finding little ways to keep my body right. I picked up Pilates last season, and I feel like it was really a game-changer."
It helped make him into exactly that as well, a game-changer at defensive tackle who currently boasts a pass rush success rate that is better than many defensive ends and outside linebackers around the league.
He's not getting out ahead of his skis, however.
"It feels good, but it's definitely early," said Odighizuwa. "I'm not trying to get too ahead of myself. I just reset every week and do it again."
His fellow aforementioned draftmate has seen the work ethic from Day 1.
"Osa's coming for everything he wants and deserves," said Parsons. "He's trying to make his statement and say, 'Hey, I can be a premier [defensive tackle] as well.'"
He's been picking the brains of Parsons, Lawrence and every other pass rusher on the team to help hasten his improvement and, needless to say, it's working.
"I think Osa's doing a much better job of feeling the rush," said Parsons. "I told him he has to stop anticipating what [he] wants to do. Just set your rushes up. Use your power.
"Use what God gifted you. Osa's a big, strong and powerful dude. Show people [but also] finesse guys. Not everyone can be a finesse [player]. And once he shows people his power, and then starts incorporating finesse, he's been having a lot of success.
"I think he can be an 8-10 sack guy."
Remember, this is a defensive tackle we're talking about, whose name isn't Aaron Donald but who is making a similar impact for his team through the first two weeks (actually better, statistically speaking, as Donald has just ½ sack thus far in 2023).
It's impossible to argue against Parson's projection, considering Odighizuwa is already nearly halfway there before the third game of the season gets underway; and when factoring in just how intense he is about making his body into one of the most chiseled physiques in the entire Cowboys' locker room, and also one that can execute speed, quickness and finesse.
"When I see Osa in the weight room, I don't go [anywhere] near [him]," Parsons said. "I let him do what he likes to do because, every time you go in there, he's got some heavy weight going. I'm not lifting heavy weight[s]. I tell him that.
"I'm like, damn, every time I look at him, he's in a fully-drenched sweat and he's in prime mode. That's his work ethic. That's who he is, and he hasn't changed from it since he got here."
It's all as much about taking pride in reaching greatness as a team as it is the understanding of how that goal can be reached more quickly when an individual puts in the work to acquire it as an individual — each player then feeding off of the greatness of each other in a perpetual cycle of dominance.
So when it's all said-and-done in 2023, the most important line item Odighizuwa will check is the one that reads "Super Bowl winner". The next one will involve a comparison of himself to himself, as he prepares to try and make the 2024 season (and each one thereafter) better than the one before it.
"I just look at my body of work when it comes to stats, and stuff like that," he said. "I'm always trying to outdo myself from the previous year."
Yeah, no kidding.