Rocky Hill head coach Rich Dance and R.J. Onyina after Onyina signed his commitment to play football at SCSU
R.J. Onyina’s road to college football has been paved with obstacles.
The Rocky Hill senior recently committed to Southern Connecticut State University after two years of character-building hurdles.
“It’s really exciting,” Onyina said of his commitment to SCSU, “My junior year I didn’t get to show out that much with getting hurt and that made me work really hard in the offseason. This year I had a vision in my own head of what I could have done this year. I was a lot bigger and stronger and worked so hard to the point where I think I could have done a lot of big things.”
Onyina suffered a high-ankle sprain, forcing him to miss over half of his junior season in 2019, and then COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of 11v11 football this past fall.
During the turbulent two seasons, head coach Rich Dance helped Onyina deal with the setbacks while guiding the team through the disappointment of an incomplete fall.
“Coach helped us, and we helped each other. I really thought we could have done big things this year, but it is what it is. Everything happens for a reason.”
Onyina entered RHHS four years ago after attending Corpus Christie in Wethersfield.
“Coming here I was kind of nervous, it was my first time changing schools. It a different environment from a private school,” said Onyina, who used sports to bond with his new classmates, “Now I call this place my home. This is where I found my family, there are people just like me that have the same goals.”
Along with playing football, he also played basketball and is currently on the track & field team as a sprinter, hurdler, and as part of relay teams.
His rare combination of size, speed, and strength will be a welcomed addition to the Owls football team in New Haven.
“I’m really excited to show them what I can do. I know a lot of people are rooting for me,” said the 6’2” receiver, “I feel like I’m a lot bigger than some guys, and going into a college program will help me get to that next step. I’m just going to keep working out, eating right, and training to get better every day.”
He made the most out of quarantine, choosing to focus on self-improvement.
“During Covid it was kind of hard because my parents didn’t really want me leaving. I ended up staying with my cousins and they got me some workout equipment. I’d run with a parachute, work out in the basement. During those two months I put on like 10-15 pounds. That’s where it all started for me.”
Onyina feared that his lack of game-tape might hurt his chances at college football, but Dance helped him make the connections he needed.
“Coach really believes in me. I owe him everything because I really don’t think I would have been able to do it without him. He was the one telling us to stay motivated and keep working and it all paid off in the end,” Onyina said of Dance, “I’ve always wanted to stay in Connecticut and going there they made me feel like family. It’s a really great opportunity for me because it’s a D2 program and I can stay close to home and play the sport I love.”
He will join an Owls program that will be motivated heading into the fall of 2021, following a year without games due to the pandemic.
Onyina, who played both sides of the ball at Rocky Hill, said he was recruited as a wide receiver yet is willing to accept any role that head coach Tom Godek and Southern staff have for him.
Next fall, he’ll began to write the next chapter in his football story, as he pursues degree in finance or engineering.
“It will allow me to grow as a person. Every day I ask myself if I get better, and there I feel like I can grow academically, athletically, and in every aspect of life.”
The soon-to-be graduate is currently finishing up his senior season on the track and will soon be accepting his diploma with a senior class of football player that he’s grown close with despite the setbacks.
“They are all my brothers. In 30 years I’ll still be talking to them,” said Onyina, who added that Rocky Hill will always be home, “Even next year, I’ll be here supporting the guys here. Rocky Hill is the type of community where everyone gives back to each other. You see everyone supporting each other all the time. That’s what I love about this place.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin