During his high school at Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Obi Ezeh was a great halfback. He set his school's career rushing record with 3,189 yards and reached pay-dirt 26 times. In the class of 2006, he was a ranked three star RB, and #72 in the country at his position. Ezeh knew that to have a great career at a bigger school, he might have to play linebacker.
"Smaller schools wanted me to play running back, bigger schools wanted me to play linebacker," he recalled. "That was just something that I was kind of dealing with throughout the whole process as well. I kind of at the end of the recruiting process knew that I wasn't going to play running back in college unless I wanted to go to a smaller school. So if I wanted to have a great career at linebacker, I thought I could do that at Michigan."
Even at linebacker, Ezeh knew that he wasn't one of the more heralded prospects in his class, and as a result, not as much was expected from him. That is something that still motivates him.
"Guys weren't really looking at you a lot," he said. "You see some five stars that come out and they are not even playing right now. It is something that drives you. You know in the back of your mind every day that you feel you need to come out and prove yourself every day."
It came full circle last season, when Ezeh earned a starting spot at inside linebacker and kept it for the last nine games of the season. Despite not being atop the depth chart for the first month of the season, he finished the season fifth on the team in tackles with 68, (thanks in part to three straight double-digit tackling efforts to end the year). For his efforts he was named to the Freshman All-America 1st team by some media outlets. Even then, though, he had not realized his role as the future centerpiece of the linebacking corp.
"Back then I wasn't even really thinking that far down the line," Ezeh explained. "I was just trying to make it past the next day of training camp. I was just lifting and running every day, watching guys like David Harris and Shawn Crable. I mean all the success that they've had. You kind of sit back and think maybe that could be me in a couple of years, but I couldn't even fathom that would be me right now. I have only been here for three years. It is great experience and it is something that I am taking a day at a time."
Versus Utah last Saturday Ezeh picked up right where he left off in 2007, recording 15 tackles and his first interception of the season. More recognition followed… Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Ezeh's reaction, though, was a bit subdued.
"They just told me just now," he said regarding when he found out about the honor. "I mean, I'm happy that I had some success early, but it is kind of tainted. I really don't want to dwell on it that much. It is good to know that I am having some success early. Glad to see that some of the hard work is paying off."
Ezeh says that he now feels like a leader on this defense and it is not something that he is backing down from.
"I feel like that wasn't really a role that I attempted to take on," he said. "I feel like through a process, I have kind of stepped into this role and I am embracing it. I am not shying away from it. I want to be a leader on this team. I feel like it is my responsibility to get guys where we need to be to win some games. I feel like at any position you could kind of be a leader, but I feel like the quarterback of the defense, but it is not always like that. I guess it is by chance, because I played every linebacker position since I have been here."