Football: Odenigbo looks to start new tradition at Northwestern

Colin Becht

Ifeadi Odenigbo’s list of suitors was lengthy.

He had taken official visits to Notre Dame and Stanford and had scholarship offers from 20 schools, including some of the finest from each of the Bowl Championship Series conferences.

Instead, the four-star football recruit shied away from the perennial powerhouses, turning down Alabama, Ohio State and Southern California, among others, to play at Northwestern, a football program that hasn’t won a bowl game since 1949.

“People talk about, it doesn’t have a tradition like Ohio State or Notre Dame,” Odenigbo said. “I disregard that. I feel it’s more special to start your own tradition than be a part of one.”

Rather than a team’s legacy, Odenigbo gave more weight to the schools’ academics and thus narrowed his decision to Notre Dame, Stanford and NU, all schools ranked in the top 20 in U.S. News & World Report’s national university rankings.

“That played the main role,” Odenigbo said. “Academics came first, then football. I was sort of using football as a tool to get into schools I typically wouldn’t get accepted into.”

Odenigbo’s prioritizing academics ahead of athletic achievements reflects an attitude that has been engrained in him by his parents. His mother, Linda Odenigbo, is a physician, and his father, Thomas Odenigbo, is a civil engineer.

“Academics has always been a strong point in my life,” Odenigbo said.

Still with his choice of elite academic schools, many with more established football legacies than NU, Odenigbo chose the Wildcats.

“What really sold me was the people that I met there,” Odenigbo said. “It was the players. That’s a group of people that I would want to play with.”

Odenigbo said he especially bonded with linebackers David Nwabuisi and Chi Chi Ariguzo, connecting with them over their shared Nigerian heritage.

Odenigbo also felt a good rapport with coach Pat Fitzgerald, who he said was different from most of the recruiters with whom he talked. Fitzgerald, Odenigbo said, never went into negative recruiting by criticizing other schools Odenigbo was interested in.

“He was all business, as in, ‘This is what I have to offer you. Either you like it or you don’t and we’ll just move on to the next guy,'” Odenigbo said. “He kept it real with me, and I really liked that because that’s what I would want in a coach.”

What position he’ll play for Fitzgerald is still unclear. Odenigbo played defensive end in high school, recording 140 tackles and 19 sacks for Centerville High School in Ohio. However, questions about his size may move him to linebacker.

Odenigbo weighed just 210 pounds during his senior season.

“At first I wanted to be a linebacker because I didn’t want to blow up because I didn’t think my body could handle it,” Odenigbo said. “But I’m blowing up pretty fast right now. I’m about 220.”

Odenigbo said he feels confident he can put on more weight but isn’t working to get any bigger right now because he’s competing on his school’s track team. He said he’ll re-evaluate which position is right for him in the fall depending on how much weight he puts on during the summer.

When Odenigbo gets to NU, he has big goals for the Wildcats, including ending the 63-year bowl win drought and bringing a first Big Ten championship to Evanston since 2000. If he is successful, Odenigbo may start that tradition he sought when he committed.

“Not winning a bowl game in 50 years, that’s going to change definitely,” Odenigbo said. “If we don’t have a Big

Ten championship or something like that, I personally think it’ll be a disappointing year.”

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