To see C.J. Uzomah pass at Auburn was rare, but it wasn’t altogether shocking.
The Auburn tight end from 2011 to 2014 was, after all, one of Georgia’s most dynamic high school quarterbacks during his senior season at North Gwinnett in 2010. Uzomah was rated a four-star athlete out of high school and his senior season totals justified that rating. He passed for 856 yards, rushed for 570 and had 310 receiving yards the same season North Gwinnett’s undefeated season was crushed by an unfavorable second-round matchup against Grayson in the state playoffs.
But Uzomah played in 37 games for Auburn and attempted four passes, typically gadget plays near the end zone that caught opposing defenses off guard.
Passing was his primary function, in fact, as a freshman at Auburn. Uzomah didn’t record any receptions but attempted three passes. His first pass was an interception. His second pass was incomplete. His third — against Georgia at Sanford Stadium — was a touchdown.
“I was juiced,” he said.
Uzomah attempted one more pass as a senior in the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin. But that play wasn’t Uzomah’s highlight. It would have to be the 29-yard TD reception that gave Auburn a 24-21 lead to start the fourth quarter, although the Tigers eventually lost the game 34-31.
That catch was Uzomah’s last at Auburn, a connection from the arm of another Georgia native, former Auburn and Wilcox County quarterback Nick Marshall.
“Nick put that out there perfectly,” he said. “That was a memorable catch.”
Uzomah finished his college career with seven total touchdowns and was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Uzomah is still well-connected to his North Gwinnett roots. A few coaches such as Bulldogs defensive backs coach Eric Wright, who he said talks to often, were on staff while Uzomah was in high school. He has some Snapchat streaks with former teammates that have lasted for years. Some of his former teammates’ younger brothers have passed through North Gwinnett, another reason to keep up with the team week-to-week.
Through seasons in the NFL, Uzomah figures himself a bit of a tweener when it comes to experience. He senses he’s no longer one of the younger players in the locker room anymore when teammates mention their high school graduation years are the same as the year he was drafted, but he’s not yet a family man like some of his seasoned teammates.
The four-year NFL player has earned roles on all but one Cincinnati Bengals special teams unit. Uzomah was not on the punt return team, but the Falcons punted on once during Sunday’s game against the Bengals, so Uzomah was on the field often.
“A lot of guys hesitate and get pancaked,” Uzomah said. “(Bengals special teams coordinator Derrin Simmons) just wants smarter guys that run as fast as they can the entire time. I’m a knucklehead that runs as fast as I can the entire time.”
On offense, the Bengals like him as a run blocker on early downs, but also utilize him a decoy by splitting him out wide and motioning him next to the offensive line, where he a takes a three-point stance before the snap. He sometimes takes a three-point stance as a fullback in the Bengals’ prototypical I-formation. His presence as a route runner alone forces opposing defenses to cover him, thus leaving openings from his teammates, as he did when he was lined up wide on Tyler Eifert’s first-quarter TD against the Falcons.
Uzomah’s role changed midway through the game when Eifert was transported off the field with a gruesome injury to his right ankle. That bumped Uzomah up the depth chart to the No. 1 tight end. While he didn’t have the same volume of targets that Eifert attracts, he was on the field for virtually every offensive play after that.
“We’ve gotten a lot closer, especially this year, so it’s tough to see that happen,” Uzomah said regarding his injured teammate. “The only thing I was thinking was, ‘Play for (Eifert).’ What would Eif do? I know that he’d go out and battle for us. We wanted to go out there and get that win for him.”
Uzomah logged 69 plays on offense and special teams against Atlanta on Sunday, 48 in the second half when Eifert left the game at the 14:10 mark in the third quarter. Uzomah caught his only target during Cincinnati’s final offensive drive to win the game. The play on second-and-12 set up third-and-6, two plays before Cincinnati converted on fourth down and threw a TD pass to receiver A.J. Green.
But Uzomah is not totally limited to an auxiliary role with Cincinnati, and the Bengals feature his pure athleticism at times. He caught his first TD pass of the 2018 season in the Bengals’ game against Carolina for his third career TD in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t have thought, coming from North Gwinnett, that I’d be a tight end for the Cincinnati Bengals, scoring a touchdown,” he said. “It’s a blessing, for sure. It’s surreal. Every time I catch the ball I feel like, ‘This is awesome.’ I try to show that passion and excitement every time.”