ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Temple linebacker William Kwenkeu was smiling ear to ear, and it had more to do than just the Owls 28-3 win over Florida International in the Gasparilla Bowl at Tropicana Field.
This is a week that the sophomore linebacker will remember for the rest of his life, more so for what occurred before he played the best game of his career.
On Wednesday, Kwenkeu earned much more than a start. He flew to Baltimore, where he passed the test to earn his America citizenship. Kwenkeu says he will be sworn in on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Kwenkeu, who entered Thursday's game with no career sacks, had two along with six solo tackles, while playing a heavy role in the Owls' win.
He earned the start because fellow sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley had missed practices due to a hand injury. Bradley still saw extensive time with four tackles and an interception.
"It was exciting getting my first two sacks as an American," Kwenkeu said.
Born in Cameroon, Kwenkeu came to the United States in 2012, two years after his mother Martie Etammae moved to the U.S. Amazingly, he said he didn't know a word of English at the time.
"I was self-taught," he said.
He was also a quick learner in football.
At 6-foot-1, and 225-pounds, he has great speed and explosion.
His first sack sent a message to FIU, which lost starting quarterback Alex McGough in the first series when he broke his collarbone after gaining 17 yards.
McGough stayed in the game for two plays, handing off both times, and then was replaced for good by Maurice Alexander.
An adept runner, Alexander was sacked by Kwenkeu for 7 yards on his first play, setting the defensive tone for the rest of the evening.
Kwenkeu's performance was no surprise to his teammates or defensive coordinator Taver Johnson.
"It is something we always expected," Johnson said. "He is passionate about it; he brings a lot of energy to this defense and him making those plays tonight ignited our defensive unit."
This was a close game until Temple quarterback Frank Nutile led the Owls to an impressive third quarter drive to increase their lead to 14-3. On three consecutive plays, Nutile hit Keith Kirkwood, Isaiah Wright and then Adonis Jennings for a total of 69 yards. Jennings made a sensational 39-yard catch on his back to the 1-yard-line. Two plays later, David Hood score from 1 yard out.
Nutile was the game MVP after completing 18 of 28 for 254 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, while also scoring on a 4-yard run in the first half. In the fourth quarter, he led the Owls on two scoring drives, with a 45-yard catch and run touchdown pass to Wright and a 5-yard run by Ryquell Armstead.
The defense, which didn't allow a touchdown for the first time this season, also recorded a Gasparilla Bowl record seven sacks. That helped Temple to finish 7-6 after winning four of their last five games.
The leader of the sack brigade was proud for what he accomplished in the game, and was ecstatic in describing what it means to be an American citizen.
"It was exciting," he said. "It was a five-year long wait and when it finally happened it, there were tears on my mom's face, she was smiling and it was making her proud. That is what she wanted for me, the America dream happening for me, so it was a very warm moment."