Committing to Cincinnati was a no-brainer for starting safety Arryn Chenault considering his uncle is one of the most famous athletes in school history.
WEST HARRISON, Ind. - When discussing what will be his first game as a full-time starter, Arryn Chenault immediately begins reeling off names of those who came before him. The pressure to rise up as a junior starting safety this season comes as much from within the locker room as it does outside.
The list comes quickly off his tongue: Haruki Nakamura, Aaron Webster, Connor Barwin, even Chenault's current starting teammate at safety Drew Frey.
"You got to live up to expectations," he said. "We got these All-Big East DB's, we got great defenses here."
Discussing history and legacy comes easy to Chenault because he's used to it. His family tree fronts a forest of UC royalty.
"My uncle, I don't if you know him," Chenault said. "He played with the Big O. His name was Paul Hogue."
Oh yeah, pretty sure we know him.
Hogue passed away in 2009, but was on the 1961 and '62 national championship basketball teams. Of course, to say he was on the team is akin to saying those squads won a few games. Hogue was the Most Outstanding Player of the '61 tournament, spent two seasons in the NBA and owns a spot in the Ohio, Cincinnati and UC Halls of Fame. He'll go in a second time in the UC Hall this year when the entire 1961 team is enshrined.
To an older generation, he'll be instantly reeled off as one of the great UC Bearcats of all-time. To the 20-year-old Chenault -- who spoke with his uncle regularly -- he'll go down as competition and a driving force of motivation.
"We had family reunions all the time and he used to brag about how he got championships and I ain't got none," Chenault said. "I want to compete against his legacy. In our family we compete against each other in anything."
The time has officially arrived for Chenault to begin making a name for himself. For two years, he sat behind Drew Frey and Wes Richardson. He learned the ropes and patiently waited his turn. Once Richardson graduated last year Chenault seized the opportunity. He's been running as the starting safety every day of camp.
In an experienced secondary, he'll be the only first-year starter playing with sixth-year senior Frey, senior Cam Cheatham and junior Deven Drane. Although, technically, Sept. 6 against Pitt won't be Chenault's first start. He earned a surprise start when Frey was banged up on the first punt of last year's win at Miami. Chenault was forced into action for the first few series of the game before Frey returned.
For what it's worth, he scored a 100 percent for his time in there. Although, he's a much different player these days roaming the defensive backfield.
I was in against Miami, I was just playing assignment football," he
said. "I was just playing not to mess up. Now I am out there trying
to make plays, trying to be a leader, trying to get the team going,
big hits, getting picks, everything. Just trying to make plays."
Those plays start by communicating with Frey next to him. There, Chenault has proven to be well ahead of schedule. Despite the fact the two have yet to play a game next to each other, Frey says this is the strongest communication he's enjoyed with another safety.
"I love that kid," he said. "I know how Arryn thinks, he knows how I think. He's a smart guy, he's in the right places at the right times."
There will be no more right place for him than Nippert Stadium this season. Beyond lineage, Chenault is a hometown kid who loves every aspect of the city. He grew up in North College Hill and still remembers his pee-wee football days playing for Hilltop. He's seen the suburbs after moving to Fairfield for high school where he led the team in tackles and interceptions as a junior and senior. There, he ascended to a three-star recruit by scout and had offers from Big Ten schools Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois.
Usually, when the Big Ten offers, high school kids sign.
Not this kid. Not this family. Not in this city.
"End of the day you can't leave your home," said Chenault, who would happily accept any tickets you could help him out with trying to squeeze his hoards of family and friends into the stands against Pitt. "It's hometown cooking, man. My freshman year we came in were struggling a bit, people were doubting us, but we won another championship. That is what this program is all about. It's all about championships and there ain't no better city than Cincinnati, so I ain't leaving Cincinnati."
Chenault certainly wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to honor Hogue by attempting to pass his uncle's two-championship barrier.
"That red and black was already in my family so (committing) was just a no-brainer," Chenault said. "He got two, I got one right now. I can pass him up, get three. I got some catching up to do."