Uche Nwaneri, a former Jaguar who played offensive line for the team for seven seasons, passed away early on Friday at the age of 38 in West Lafayette, Indiana, at his wife’s house.
Nwaneri was discovered unconscious at his wife’s home around one in the morning, according to a story in the West Lafayette Journal & Courier, which cited Tippecanoe County Coroner Carrie Costello and West Lafayette police. According to early reports, he had a heart attack. Monday’s autopsy found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Nwaneri was staying with his wife while visiting Atlanta, where he has business connections.
The Jaguars selected Purdue’s Nwaneri in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. In 2008, he filled in for the injured Vince Manuwai and started 15 games after appearing in nine games and making one start as a rookie. The following year, when Manuwai made a comeback, Nwaneri won the starting guard position on the other side and started 13 of the team’s 16 games while giving just one-half sack and not picking up a single penalty all season.
Ultimately, he began 76 straight games throughout the 2013 campaign until being released in March 2014. Despite being taken by Dallas, he was released during the final preseason roster cuts.
Nwaneri played with consistency and toughness. He started every game in 2012 with a meniscus injury in his knee, explaining his reasoning for toughing it out during a 2-14 season: “It wasn’t going to get any worse.”
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“He was a great teammate to have around,” said former Jaguars center Brad Meester. “He was beside me for a long time … a tremendous player and athlete. There was such great energy to him; he was a very positive, brilliant guy. I was fortunate to have great guards on either side of me during my career and he was one of them, a guy you could count on all the time.”
“This comes as a big shock,” said Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee, who said he and Nwaneri shared a common bond with their Texas roots. “I’ve kept up with him since he retired [in 2014] and he’s a perfect dude and was a heck of a football player. He was always one of the outspoken leaders in the locker room and one of the few offensive linemen who showed appreciation for kickers.”
We are saddened to learn of the passing of Uche Nwaneri. pic.twitter.com/UstPAT1i6U
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) January 2, 2023
Former Jaguar’s communications director turned senior vice president of tradition and alums, Dan Edwards, commended Nwaneri for his intelligence and the stimulating discussions the two would have on virtually any topic.
“Uche was always one of my favorite players,” Edwards said. “He was an outstanding player but a down-to-earth, everyday guy who was very smart. I enjoyed conversations with him because he was a thinker. He enjoyed talking, was very popular with his teammates and was a perfect, good guy. This is a sad story that he’s gone.”
“On behalf of the Jaguars organization and my family, our thoughts are with Uche’s family [and] friends at this terrible time,” Tony Khan posted.
Rest In Peace, Uche Nwaneri. @Chukwu77 played 7 seasons with the @Jaguars, 2007-2013, and forged a strong bond with the Jags fans that's remained to this day.
On behalf of the Jaguars organization and my family, our thoughts are with Uche's family + friends at this terrible time.
— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) January 2, 2023
Nwaneri operated several businesses in Atlanta. He ran a club, a property management business, and a sports consulting business.
He enjoyed gaming and comic novels and was active on social media. The Observant Lineman was his user name on Twitter and YouTube.
Nwaneri wasn’t afraid to express his views on the Jaguars, and he used social media to lambast the team’s coaching search before appointing Doug Pederson.
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The day before he passed away, Nwaneri sent out one final tweet about Pele, the late soccer great. His final YouTube message was a Merry Christmas message for his fans and their families.
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