Riding a rollercoaster

Freshman cornerback adjusts well to significant changes in his football plans in a short period of time

Jack Ikegwuonu and his twin brother, Bill, waited out the recruiting season about as long as they could. The brothers had dreamed of staying in Madison and together attending the University of Wisconsin. Jack was offered an opportunity to greyshirt, allowing him to go on scholarship in January 2005, while Bill was given a chance to walk on.

The Ikegwuonus waited and waited, listening to a few MAC schools along the way, always hoping that the Badgers would sweeten the deal. In the end, Jack took the greyshirt at Wisconsin and Bill accepted a scholarship offer from Northern Illinois.

Jack was mentally prepared for waiting a year to don the cardinal and white Wisconsin uniforms until he went to register for classes in the summer and was told he would join the team, on scholarship, in August. Recruited as a defensive back, Ikegwuonu was also told during the summer he would play receiver, which was, after all, his position of choice.

Then fall camp rolled around and Ikegwuonu began his career as a free safety. One day later he was moved again, this time to cornerback. He is expected to earn playing time as a true freshman, either at cornerback or on special teams.

"Jack will play wherever you ask him to play," defensive backs coach Ron Lee said. "When we asked him to move to corner, he stepped right in and went right out. He just wants to get on the field."

"My whole goal coming into this whole thing was to get on the field and that's what everyone wants to do," Ikegwuonu said. "Whatever I need to do to do that, that's what I'm going to do. As far as playing receiver, I just forget about it, just look at what I've got to do to play corner and just work on being a corner and helping the team out."

Ikegwuonu spent the summer participating in 7-on-7 drills with the other receivers, which, it turns out, has helped his coverage skills. He has a good idea of what his teammates are going to do, he said.

"I kind of recognized tendencies that receivers have, whether they break in or break out off the line and things like that," Ikegwuonu said. "At first I was intimidated a little bit but now I'm getting more comfortable and I'm making plays."

Ikegwuonu has made a number of plays during fall camp, intercepting and knocking down passes and generally doing a good job shadowing receivers.

"The coaches say, ‘good job, good job,' but I'm not the kind of person that is going to look at it in a few days," Ikegwuonu said. "It could just be a few lucky days. I just want to be consistent. I think that's a big thing around here is consistency….I'm not worried about getting the coaches' attention too much right now. I think that being a freshman, my job is to listen, learn, get better, work harder than everybody, earn my spot on the team and then I can start worrying about what the coaches think about how I'm playing. I just want to work hard and be consistent and I think that's what is really going to open the coaches' eyes."

Ikegwuonu plans on opening a lot of eyes.

"I realize that I do have the capability to play with these guys and I think that it's just going to take time before I'm overly confident and before I'm dominating out there, that's the way I feel," he said.

But Ikegwuonu can wait for that time to come. Though he will likely play this season, perhaps as early as the opener against Central Florida Sept. 4, if he was only going to play sparingly, he would not mind redshirting.

"I would prefer to redshirt if I was only going to contribute a little but if they need me, I'm going to jump to it," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say, ‘I don't want to go on the field, I don't want to lose a year of eligibility. Just pick somebody else, not me.' But it would be nice if I could redshirt. If I'm not going to play that much, I'd really like to save a year of eligibility and maybe give more to the team in my next year…but I'm not going to back down to any challenges that they put in front of me."

Such as having a greyshirt removed and going from defensive back to wide receiver to free safety to corner in a couple of months.

"It's just been a rollercoaster," he said. "First I didn't even know if they could offer me or not so I didn't even think I was even going to get to play here."

Jack said he talks to his brother, Bill, every day and that the latter is enjoying Northern Illinois. Bill Ikegwuonu is playing outside linebacker and will likely redshirt.

"He's shooting out challenges," Jack Ikegwuonu said. "He's like, ‘Tell Coach Alvarez to schedule a game between NIU and the Badgers. You know we'll kill you.' But he's having fun. We really thought that it would be a disadvantage and a loss that we didn't get to play together but he's having fun. The guys are great like the guys are here and we're making new friends but we're keeping in contact and it's like he's right next to me every day because we talk all the time. It's a special thing that we can go to two different schools and share experiences every day and talk about what practice is like. It's nice."

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