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Reflecting his priorities, Odenigbo talked more about academics than he did football in a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with The Bootleg. Unique among recruits, though, to Odenigbo, is that he readily admits his shortcomings in the classroom, and wonders if he can step out of the long shadow his parents cast.
"I come from a family background that's strongly academic," Odenigbo said. "My mom got accepted to Yale. She's creepy smart. And my older brother's premed at Cincinnati."
"My parents, I was begging them freshman year to play football, but they were both born and raised in Nigeria," he said. "So they never understood; they just saw people hit each other and thought it was not safe."
Though Odenigbo's family may turn out more correct than any of us would like to believe, eventually Ifeadi did avail upon his parents to let him play the most American of sports.
"I was more into soccer, and I ended up quitting that because I was built like a football player," he said. "Then I ran track, but I looked like a football player running in a circle. The coaches convinced me to come out for my sophomore year and my parents, they finally said yes, I got on my knees begged them.
"Sophomore year, I was a JV player and got a little playing time on varsity. It was my learning season. Then, junior year, I got to start."
Six months later, and Odenigbo has 20 offers, though he may well be nearing thirty by the time this interview is written up, published and read. In chronological order, those offers have come from Cincinnati, Toledo, Stanford, Syracuse, West Virginia, Northwestern, Indiana, Boston College, Michigan State, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Ohio, Duke, Notre Dame, Kent State and Nebraska. Odenigbo has visited Ohio State and Notre Dame, and plans to visit Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern and Stanford.
The offers have proved as much of a shock to Odenigbo's parents as they have to him.
"When I got my first offer, they were just stunned," he said. "My dad said, ‘What? They give offers for football, a full scholarship to hurt somebody?'
"My dad doesn't totally understand football, doesn't get to a lot of the games and didn't know what was going on. But since [my first offer], he's been looking up info and has been really excited on the recruiting process. My mom started getting better at watching each week too.
"My parents are just so happy I'm in this situation. My older brother went to Cincinnati and just lives life like a normal person, but I'm really fortunate and blessed to have four or five more years to play football."
So how does Odenigbo straddle the academic drive he inherited from his parents with the sudden success he's found in football, and the opportunities that prowess may bring in his future? Stanford may well be one such option, to listen to Odenigbo tell it.
"I learned Stanford's a very good economics and business school and very good in the medical field. I'm thinking of that because my mom's a doctor and Stanford would be a gateway to a medical school, or whatever major I choose. After Stanford offered me, I did a lot of research and fell in love with the stuff I read [about] there. So I just know when it's decision time, it's going to be very hard. I'm in a great spot, very grateful and blessed."
When this reporter called and identified his affiliation with The Bootleg, immediately it was Odenigbo who was asking the questions. Did the reporter go to Stanford? What'd he get on his ACT? Is he a genius? Odenigbo is naturally polite and inquisitive, but as Odenigbo opened up, he revealed that he's confident he'll adjust easily enough to college academics. His questions instead hinted at his fears – would he be bright enough to thrive at Stanford?
"When [Stanford] offered, I said I don't think I'm smart enough," Odenigbo said. "[The coaches] started laughing and they just said to keep maintaining my grades, and they really like me and wouldn't have offered me if not. Other schools, if you have above a 2-something GPA or an 18 on the ACT, then you're in, but Stanford's so prestigious, all the players have to be good academically. They told me I have to take two AP classes, so I'll take chemistry and either Econ or Psych.
"I'm not the strongest guy academically, I have a 3.2. I'm not going to play football the rest of my life, so if I went to Stanford, it'd be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Stanford is so recognized, when they offered me, they were the third school to offer me, I was just so overwhelmed. I never thought that could happen, that a school like Stanford could offer me."
Odenigbo's Centerville High, just south of Dayton and 90 minutes from Columbus, counts several prominent Buckeyes among its alums, among them All-Americans K Mike Nugent and LB A.J. Hawk; QB Kirk Herbstreit, perhaps the face of college football today; and Michael Bennett, a four-star DT in the 2011 class. Odenigbo credits the Herculean effort the Centerville football program demands with making those players stars, but adds that the time and energy required has limited him academically.
"Freshman year, I had a 3.3 and thought I could get it higher, but once I started doing football it was very time-consuming," he said. "We had Monday, Wednesday, Friday practices at 4:30 a.m., that's when football starts [in the summer], and they'd end at 9:30, 10 a.m. I wake up by 4:30, and that's right after school's over, it's not like we get a one-week break or anything.
"That's part of the reason we have so many D-I athletes, not a lot of schools do that. So then when school starts, school ends at 2:50, football starts at 3:30, 3:25, and we're probably off the field at 6:30. Thursday, we're off the field early for team dinner, but it's just time-consuming and exhausting. Then you have to do homework and study for tests.
"It takes a lot of dedication to play a sport. I've talked to some players and they think Centerville football was harder than what they're doing in college. Wherever I do play college ball, a school like Centerville will help me out a lot. I'm used to the system and the summer stuff, unlike a normal kid who's not used to that."
Read on for Part II of the Ifeadi Odenigbo story.
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