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Tar Heel defender Boyd Okwuonu keeps Wofford Terriers at bay

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UNC Boyd Okwuonu (4) challenges Wake Forest Sophomore Sean Okoli (9) for a head in Carolina's 0-0 draw on September 14th, 2012 at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

If there’s only one defender between an opponent with the ball and goalkeeper Scott Goodwin — the North Carolina men’s soccer team wants it to be the guy wearing No. 4.

The roster says that’s Boyd Okwuonu.

But none of his teammates or coaches call him that.

He goes by O.C., which is short for his African name Obunikechukwu.

Boyd was the name given to him by the nurse that helped deliver him because his parents had recently moved from Nigeria and didn’t know many American names.

Whatever he’s called, he’s also called good.

“What special about O.C. is he’s extremely driven and he showed up here,” coach Carlos Somoano said after UNC’s 1-0 overtime win against Wofford Tuesday night.

“It’s a good example of when you have some talent and ability and you really work at it and do the right thing you get the reward. And he deserves a lot of recognition in my opinion.”

That ability was on full display in the second half against Wofford even as the Tar Heels played a man down after Andy Craven was sent off early in the match.

With 26 minutes to go and the game still scoreless, Terrier forward Dennis Moore broke into some open space and made a charge on the goal.

But a couple of jab steps wouldn’t fool Okwuonu, and when Moore tried to fire on goal, the Tar Heel defender met him with a well-timed tackle that deflected the ball away and kept the game level.

Those are the kind of situations that the sophomore lives for.

“I love that responsibility,” he said. “I love having that on my back. Basically you just stay calm, focused — it’s a mental thing. I just enjoy it. I like being in control and that’s what I’m good at. I take it to my advantage.”

Though he admitted that the pressure of playing down a player is shared by the whole team, it is especially tough on the defense.

“We run a little bit more — we’ve got to be smarter with everything because they take advantage of that and put an extra man forward,” he said. “We just have to adapt to having a man down, which we’re able to do. Like I said, I’m ready for the responsibility.”

Goodwin, who has now registered three consecutive shutouts, said he’s never really seen a player as good in one-on-one situations as Okwuonu has been so far this season.

“He’s not only an incredible athlete; he’s also just very smart,” Goodwin said. “His positioning is always spot on and that really, as a defender, is half the battle. He’s always in the right spot so he’s able to get that quick jump on the ball.”

“The way he’s able to get side-to-side, really read the attacker, which way he’s going to go, and he’s able to do all of it winning the ball cleanly.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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