Max Effort

Maxwell Onyegbule (Steve Puppe photo)

With Duke down to Kansas just 20-7 early in the third quarter on Saturday, this game was still in doubt. But Maxwell Onyegbule ended any hopes of a Blue Devils' upset over the No. 22 Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium.

The KU senior defensive end didn't put the clamps down with one of his patented sacks. Instead, he brought the Memorial Stadium crowd to life with an interception for a 48-yard touchdown, a huge backbreaker which put the game out of reach. Kansas (3-0) wound up winning, 44-16.

"I feel like it was a momentum changer," said receiver Dezmon Briscoe. "That's what they're (defense) out there to do, make turnovers. He made a big play."

Indeed, he did.  Maxwell Onyegbule recorded just the second interception of his career and first for a touchdown. Onyegbule read the play perfectly with KU in a pressure blitz defense and the Blue Devils facing a third down and six.

"The defensive end is supposed to drop," he said. "The quarterback didn't see me and he threw it right to me. I just ran for my life into the end zone."

That was Onyegbule's last touchdown since his senior year at Arlington (Texas) High School versus Lamar High.

"It was a punt block. The ball got blocked and I guess I just caught it in the end zone," Onyegbule recalled.

But this time was sweeter. After all, it's not often that a defensive end gets to make an interception and race 48 yards to pay dirt.

"It's wonderful for a defensive lineman or anyone on defense because you never touch the ball," Onyegbule said. "Just to have the rock in your hands and do something with it."

KU coach Mark Mangino was deeply impressed.

"For a big guy, (6-5, 258 pounds), he runs pretty well. I didn't realize he has such good hands. It might tempt me to put him at tight end someday," Mangino cracked. "Max made a nice play, got underneath the ball in the zone (and) had a good stride taking it in."

Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis praised Onyegbule as well.

"I didn't see him at all," Lewis said. "It was a good call on their part. He got in the throwing lane and I kind of threw it back to him. He did a great job of hiding."

Onyegbule hasn't been hiding much this season after playing in obscurity most of the past three years. He's having a breakout season, ranking fifth on the team in tackles with nine, first with 2.5 sacks, and tied for first with 3.5 tackles for loss.

He was coming off a huge game against UTEP on Sept. 12, where he was named co- Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after recording a career high and team-tying six tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for loss. He also had a pass broken up and a quarterback hurry.

The Arlington, Texas, native added another sack against Duke.

"He just keeps getting better as we go," Mangino said.

Onyegbule came to Kansas as a linebacker but switched to defensive end after his first year. Mangino praised his efforts in the weight room and learning the system.

"I thought toward the end of last year the light really started to go on for him," Mangino said. "Now, he is really playing with confidence and playing hard. I think he had to learn how to play the game hard on every snap. Those are the reasons he is much improved."

Onyegbule is having a blast this season in his senior swan song.

"I'm very happy with the way I'm playing," he said. "It does feel real good, but the first thing is going out there and focusing and playing."

And how does this former high school receiver feel about playing tight end?

"It would be great," Onyegbule said with a smile, "but I like defense a lot better than offense."

For Mangino and the Jayhawks, that's exactly what they want to hear.

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