Penn State ball-hawk Amani Oruwariye opened eyes duirng 2017 season, but now what?

Centre Daily Times (TNS)

Eleven months ago, Amani Oruwariye felt a bit unnoticed and underappreciated. But things have changed since August 2017.

Penn State corner back Amani Oruwariye, left, intercepts a pass intended for Northwestern wide receiver Bennett Skowronek during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Penn State won 31-7.

Back then, Nittany Lion fans were infatuated with incoming freshmen Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields, placed their trust in starters Grant Haley and Christian Campbell and mourned the season-long loss of John Reid. Oruwariye, the forgotten man, vowed to "open a lot of eyes," and he did just that with a team-leading four interceptions last season.

Now, Oruwariye faces another challenge: How does he build on a breakout campaign? What does the guaranteed 2018 starter have in-store this go-around? According to the man himself, much of the same with an added wrinkle in a new role.

"I've never been a leader on the team. I never got to do that last year," Oruwariye said recently. "So it's being a leader and actually running with the starters. Just trying to make an impact on the defense as much as I can."

The ball-hawk's fingerprints were all over Penn State's defense in 2017.

As Penn State's "third starter" at cornerback, Oruwariye made his mark early. He secured an interception in the Nittany Lions' season-opening 52-0 win over Akron, nabbed another pick against Indiana after returning from a two-week injury absence, and brought down an acrobatic interception the next week at Northwestern. The 6-foot-1 corner battled for perfect position, boxing out 6-foot-4 pass-catcher Bennett Skowronek and making a SportsCenter-worthy pick.

With three interceptions in four games played, Oruwariye was off to a stellar start — and his best performance didn't come until November. Penn State lost at Michigan State on Nov. 4, ending the Nittany Lions' College Football Playoff hopes, but Oruwariye put on a show. He hauled in a tip-drill pick in the fourth quarter that set up a potential go-ahead drive and tallied five pass breakups — the most by a Nittany Lion since Justin King in 2007.

When relied upon, Oruwariye was opportunistic and effective.

"I just like how he attacks the ball and plays aggressive," Reid said. "No matter who the competition is, he feels like he can go get it."

Added Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer: "He's going to do the same thing he did last year. Maybe even better."

Oruwariye said he will continue to attack the ball in 2018, but he also wants to improve in run support. The second-team All-Big Ten selection had 28 tackles in 2017, seventh-most among Penn State defensive backs. To bolster that area of his game, Oruwariye is watching more film, critiquing himself and studying NFL studs like Jacksonville's Jalen Ramsey and San Diego duo Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett.

"I want to be more of a force in the run game," Oruwariye reiterated. "Come downhill and show that I'm a willing tackler."

With Campbell, Haley and hard-hitting safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke off to the NFL, the Nittany Lions need Oruwariye to be a rock in the back end. He needs to be a reliable playmaker, someone Penn State can count on.

After proving his worth last season, Oruwariye feels like 2018 is his for the taking. And one teammate, in particular, couldn't agree more.

"He's working hard. He's being a leader," Farmer said. "He's a great football player. And he's going to open more eyes this year."