ECU’s receiving leaderboard was dominated by a three-headed monster of Tyler Snead, C.J. Johnson and Blake Proehl in 2019. That trio accounted for a combined 174 receptions or 64% of the Pirates’ total catches as Johnson led the team with 908 receiving yards as a true freshman.

Buried about mid-way down that list was a graduate transfer from UCLA in Audie Omotosho. A late addition to the roster during camp, Omotosho played catch-up for much of the season, only seeing limited action in the 11 games where he made appearances.

Unbeknownst to many, however, Omotosho played much of the 2019 season injured, something the receiver kept largely to himself as he competed for playing time.

“He actually had a broken thumb the entire year. Nobody really knew that because he didn’t tell anybody because he didn’t want to miss time when he was trying to compete for a job,” ECU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Monday.

Even with a hand injury hampering him, Omotosho reeled in five catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Despite spending three seasons on the Bruins’ roster, Omotosho had failed to suit for a game due to injuries, making those five catches the first of his collegiate career.

Finally healthy enough to take the field for ECU in 2019, Omotosho struggled with his conditioning after missing large chunks of conditioning work and drills during his time at UCLA. A year in the Pirates’ program, however, has flipped that on its head as Omotosho spent his off-season making strides with his body.

“Audie has really come back in the best physical shape of his life,” Kirkpatrick said. “Last year that’s what held him back. He moved to the south from Los Angeles, and though he’s from Texas — there was a point in his life that he knew about humidity — it had been a while since he had experienced true southern humidity. Just the temperatures of camp and he had been hurt for about two years, so he just was really not in the physical condition to compete at the level that we needed him to compete at.”

The experience that comes with spending three seasons in a Power 5 program provided Omotosho with the road map for how he was going to get his body prepared for his second season in purple and gold.

Someone who has had the unfortunate experience of rehabbing multiple injuries, Omotosho took advantage of the quarantine associated with the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring to get back in shape and do all the little things that feed into success.

“He’s one guy that during the pandemic I think worked as hard as he would have worked if he would have been here because he’s in tremendous shape,” Kirkpatrick said. “It has really showed and he’s caught the ball well, he’s blocked well, he’s just really gotten comfortable in our system…

“I think he got here and he got his chance and then he realized, ‘I’m not where I need to be.’ Mainly because of just physical conditioning because he had been out for so long. He just took it upon himself to really get himself back ready to go. With some success, he’s gotten more confident, with more confidence, he’s played better. So it’s just a great cycle and we’re looking for a big year out of him.”

Omotosho’s talent earned him a four-star grade and a top-50 position ranking by ESPN coming out of high school in Texas. Injuries kept him from fulfilling his potential at UCLA, but a fresh start at ECU could work wonders.

With the NCAA’s ruling on eligibility, Omotosho went from having one final crack at posting a good season to potentially having two years left as a Pirate. In 2019, he flashed his abilities, hauling in four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown against SMU in relief of a banged up Johnson.

Omotosho’s first catch of his collegiate career, a 37-yarder against NC State in the opener, showcased his ability to stretch a defense and provide the Pirates with yet another big-play option.

Heading into 2020, it is Omotosho’s raw talent and hard work during camp that has both his offensive coordinator and head coach looking for a big season out of No. 8.

“One other guy that I think — and sometimes you hesitate to pat a guy on the back, but I think he deserves it just from all the work I’ve seen him put in and it’s really showing up on the practice field — is Audie Omotosho,” Mike Houston said. “Really competing at a very high level, working very, very hard. Really excited for him. I want to see him take that to game day this year.”

Listen to Donnie Kirkpatrick’s full comments about Audie Omotosho and other topics with Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game that first aired on Monday below:

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