A House Divided

Tito Odenigbo grew up following Illinois football. Now see what keeps him coming back and what he's seen so far this season

Defensive lineman Tito Odenigbo has always had orange and blue in his blood. His parents are alumni of Illinois, and being born in Decatur, less than an hour west of Champaign-Urbana, Odenigbo fulfilled a life-long dream when he committed to Illinois.

But just a year ago, his older brother Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to Northwestern, and with the rivalry between the two schools picking up, some family matchups are definitely in the works.

"It's fun," Odenigbo said. "Ifeadi wanted to go to Northwestern and I wanted to go to Illinois. It should be fun to face each other."

Though his brother found his way up to Evanston, the younger Odenigbo couldn't pass up the opportunity to play at the school he'd followed his whole life and considered home. Despite living hours away in Centerville, OH now, Odenigbo feels right at home any time he makes his way back to Illinois.

"It felt like home here," he said. "I know Beckman is building a great program here and I have a great relationship with all the coaches here. When Illinois offered me, I just had to believe in the coaches and I did."

Odenigbo is big-bodied but has the agility to play at more than one defensive line position. In many ways, he's similar to 2013 signee Jarrod Clements, who came in in between defensive end and defensive tackle.

"I'd say probably defensive end but we'll see when we get to camp," he said on where he'd potentially play. "I could play both defensive end and defensive tackle."

Centerville is typically one of the more successful programs in the state of Ohio, producing division one talent almost every year. This year, Odenigbo is taking ownership of continuing that winning tradition, despite a couple of late bumps in the road.

"We're 6-2 right now and I'm just trying to be the best I can for the defense," he said. "I crack jokes sometimes to make sure things don't get too intense and try to help them relax a bit. We lost 2 straight after going 6-0 but we need to be more consistent and make a good run in the playoffs."

And though he's closer now to Pennsylvania than Illinois, he hasn't forgotten his roots. Where he started ended up being far more important than where he ended up.

"I'd say growing up around here was probably 80% of the reason I chose Illinois," he said. "I was born around here and so when Illinois offered, I just felt like I wanted to commit."

Tito has been excited about the opportunity to play at Illinois since he committed over the summer, but one particular family member wasn't too thrilled at first. Sibling rivalry is a real thing.

I'm not going to lie, at first Ifeadi wasn't too happy," he said laughing, "but after a few days he accepted it and we're good now."

He continued, "It's a bit of a friendly rivalry. When Illinois plays Northwestern it's always going to be fun to see what my family is like."

With his senior season nearly concluded, Odenigbo is already looking forward to his time at Illinois and is going to be preparing as soon as he can to get his body ready for the Big Ten.

"I just want to keep putting on more weight but not lose my speed," he said. "I want to get here at a good, healthy 270 or 280."

The staff at Illinois has been known to sell the idea of being an "immediate impact Illini" to several recruits. Odenigbo knows it will be a lot of work, but he also knows that the opportunity is there to contribute early on if he comes in prepared.

"They've struggled in a couple games," he said of the defense, "and I've seen a lot of difference in the defense between last year and this year. I just hope they can keep improving."

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