Junior Udodi Onwuzurike announced last month that he will be forgoing his last two years of college eligibility to start his professional career as an Adidas athlete.
Onwuzurike, in his two years competing for Stanford, broke four individual school records, contributed to the Stanford men’s third place finish at the 2023 NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships and became the first Cardinal to win an NCAA sprint title in 10 years when he ran 19.76 to take home the 200-meters victory.
Onwuzurike is one of the best sprinters in Stanford history, but his legacy at Stanford goes beyond the numbers. As he prepares to embark on his professional journey, Onwuzurike shares his journey at Stanford — while his teammates and coach reveal the impact he made at the school both on and off the track.
Onwuzurike, inspired by his brother, started running track in fifth grade and hasn’t looked back. In high school, he became the U20 200-meters world champion and was highly sought after by the top sprint programs in the nation. Stanford, a distance-focused school, seemed an unlikely choice for Onwuzurike.
“When I committed here, a lot of people told me … you’re making the wrong decision, Stanford’s never had a sprinter do what you’ve done before, your sprint career is just going to die when you get there. So, it was very fulfilling to be able to come into Stanford and do what I set out to do,” Onwuzurike said.
Onwuzurike certainly capitalized on his two short years at Stanford, but success did not come right away. “Freshman year, I came into the NCAA thinking … I’m about to take over. I’m just going to do exactly what I did in high school and see if it works … And it didn’t,” he said.
During his first year on the collegiate circuit, he placed third at Nationals in the 200 meter, and did not make the final in the 100 meter, which he says was “not a mission accomplished” for him.
So, Onwuzurike approached his next season with a different mindset. “I came into sophomore year super open-minded, realizing like … let me find all of my weaknesses from the previous year and then just hammer out all those points,” he said.
Onwuzurike locked in on the track. “He’s one of the people that I literally have to stop from running because he will run himself too much sometimes,” said sprint coach Jarius Cooper. “He is his worst critic, which I think most really great athletes always have a subconscious voice of that in their mind at all times. He works through those moments where he doesn’t like what he’s doing and he works really hard to change them in that moment.”
Onwuzurike’s determination went beyond the track too — he spent one-on-one time with assistant coach Thomas Gesser in the weight room to get stronger and also met with the nutritionist to improve his diet.
Onwuzurike was open to feedback, and even changed his running form in order to optimize performance in races. According to Onwuzurike, what worked in high school wasn’t as successful on the collegiate level, and he had to adapt. “I really had to believe in myself and [what] Coach has been telling me,” Onwuzurike said.
This mindset paid off his sophomore season — and it started with Pac-12s. Having just missed the title in the 200 meters his freshman year, he said he “really came with almost a vengeance of like, let me see what I can do, let me see how fast I can run, let me make some noise.”
This determination led to a 200-meters victory and his first sub-20 second performance. From there, he kept improving, culminating with his 200-meters victory at the NCAA championships — one of the first meets where his entire family was in the stands cheering him on.
It was a dream come true for Onwuzurike. “It really meant a lot for me because I always knew I could be an NCAA champion,” he said.
Onwuzurike was not alone in his collegiate journey. “I would say my teammates are some of the most instrumental people to help me reach my success in track, because you really need people to hold you down, you know? People you can go to when you’re at your highs and when you’re at your lows,” Onwuzurike said. “It really feels like family here.”
Junior sprinter Olufemi Cole, who ran with Onwuzurike during their Stanford-record-setting 4×100-meter relay, said Onwuzurike had an intensely collaborative mentality.
“Considering the times he was running, he could have very easily been incredibly self centered, but he was anything but that,” Cole said. “He always paid attention to how the other members of our spirit squad, boy or girl, did during workouts, and offered advice and encouragement … Even if it was not his main event, Dodi was willing to step in and run when he was needed, and that selflessness is what makes him such a great teammate.”
Not only is Onwuzurike a phenomenal teammate, but he’s also close with his coach. “We can chat about anything on and off the track … I think that that’s what kind of helps us … lean on each other as we try to get different results,” Cooper said.
Onwuzurike, despite leaving Stanford, is continuing to work with Cooper. “This is a new space for me and Coach Coop. This is my first time being a professional, obviously. And then this is Coach Coop’s first time having to coach both a collegiate team and a professional athlete simultaneously,” he said.
Onwuzurike is excited about what lies ahead, his goal being to compete for the Nigerian national team at the Olympics.
“I really want to see what I can do, especially with the upcoming Olympics — focusing on Paris 2024,” Onwuzurike said. “I’m super excited for that. I really feel like I can go out there and get a medal for my country, even for myself. And make a name for myself in the sport. I’m super excited.”
Turning professional early allows Onwuzurike to compete on the professional circuit and challenge himself against the best in the world. However, it also means he has to leave his team behind.
Coming from such a supportive team atmosphere at Stanford, when choosing which brand to sign with, Onwuzurike was focused on finding somewhere that felt like home. For Onwuzurike, it was Adidas, “a brand that both my parents both love … I definitely got good feedback from the family. I feel like those three stripes are kind of, just for me.”
Onwuzurike’s success inspires his teammates. “I’ve always been super inspired by Dodi because everything he does, he does for the love of the sport,” said junior Maya Valmon, a runner on the women’s team who holds the school record in the 400 meters. “Going pro is a personal dream of mine, so getting a front-row seat to watch him achieve that over the last two years has been incredible.”
He inspires more than just his teammates. Recently, Onwuzurike announced that he became the lead ambassador of MTN Champs, an organization dedicated to unlocking Nigeria’s global potential in sports. “I really want to use my platform to inspire other athletes to believe in themselves,” he said.
Though Onwuzurike’s time competing for Stanford is over, he will carry the knowledge and connections he gained here at Stanford with him to the next phase in his career.
“Stanford has helped me grow on the track … running faster, being in a great team atmosphere, having a great coach. But most specifically, off the track … it’s [given] me a fire of never giving up,” he said.