Finding former Bearcat defensive back Haruki Nakamura at the recent Belk Bowl in Charlotte was far from a surprise.
The 5-foot-10 former wearer of the No. 13 Cincinnati jersey appeared on the sidelines and was immediately recognized by many of the staff and fans close enough to take a gander.
It was the best of scenarios for Nakamura, who lives off nearby Lake Norman in Mooresville, North Carolina just outside of Charlotte.
He actually loved the area so much, he bought his home while still a member of the Ravens.
Baltimore drafted Nakamura in the sixth round in 2008. However, he signed an offseason free agent deal with the Panthers in 2012.
Though healthy now, his fifth NFL season was curtailed in December.
“I had a little injury to the groin,” Nakamura said. “I’m good to go. It was one of those injuries that happened at the end of the season and I wouldn’t have been able to come back in time.”
The fact that he’s lasted this long in the pros makes Nakamura above average.
Most of us in Cincinnati already knew that. He’s been an overachiever since his days at Lakewood St. Edward when Mark Dantonio noticed “the small guy making all the tackles” when he was actually looking at someone else.
The son of judo experts, Nakamura’s back ground and intensity allowed him to often make tackles seemingly with the flip of a hand. His siblings also had such skills as his brother wrestled in the US Olympic trials and his sister was a state judo champion.
At UC, he was part of the Fort Worth, International and Papajohns.com Bowl teams. In his final season, he shared team MVP honors with quarterback Ben Mauk.
Like many of the Bearcats that are scattered on NFL rosters, he’s followed the success of the recent squads.
“I’m always talking about (head trainer) Bob Mangine and Dr. (Angelo) Colosimo,” Nakamura said. “I got to meet Whit Babcock. I’m excited for the program. They’re going in the right direction and the fact that they got Tommy Tuberville is going to be a huge thing.”
Tuberville is UC’s first “wow” hire at coach, though the previous CEOs also now have impressive resumes. Nakamura’s experience was with two guys who went on to bigger headlines.
“Michigan State’s doing really well and Coach Dantonio recruited me,” Nakamura said. “Then you’ve got Brian Kelly getting to a national championship game and almost bringing Cincinnati to a national championship game. Hopefully, they can keep Tommy (Tuberville) and make this his last job before he retires.”
As for his lasting memory wearing the C-Paw, Nakamura goes with the popular Thursday night game that likely catapulted the careers of Coach Dantonio and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek.
“There were so many,” Nakamura recalled. “Beating Rutgers when they were No. 7 and tearing down the stadium, that was amazing. They were so many good memories and I’m just thankful to the University for giving me four years to be able to play there.”
Though many of us remember Nakamura breaking in as a freshman from Elyria, he’ll turn 27 this April. He’s married to a Bearcat (Jamie Pentaudi) and has two kids that probably should be on the toddler recruiting list at the Lindner Center based on DNA alone.
“My wife ran track at Cincinnati and she’s here with me,” Nakamura said. “All of our roots go back to Cincinnati. It means so much to us.”
Nakamura wears No. 43 for the Panthers. He had two interceptions this season and 54 tackles.