The 2017 NFL Draft has a talented group of players, and no group may be more talented than the edge rusher group. Players like Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas and Derek Barnett are among the top players in this class. While this group is top-heavy, it’s also incredibly deep. With the amount of talent available, it’s easy for teams to sleep on prospects. Perhaps no other edge rusher is as underrated as Northwestern’s Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Odenigbo entered Northwestern as the top high-school recruit in the state of Ohio. Considering that the 2012 class also featured players like Adolphus Washington, Chris Wormley, Tyler Orlosky and Pat Elfein, that’s no easy feat. He ended his Northwestern career with 23.5 sacks in 37 games, with 10 of them coming from his senior year. After a good outing at the NFL Combine, he looks to dominate the next thing in his path: the NFL.
cover32 had the chance to talk with him about his journey leading up to the NFL Draft.
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You started playing football during your sophomore year in high school. What made you decide to want to start playing?
Odenigbo: I feel like my peers (made me join). I was a big track guy, so people saw me in the hurdles and they were like, “woah, that’s a big dude running.” A lot of my peers said, “Ifeadi, you have all the attributes to be a football player. I don’t know why you’re running in circles.” So, I guess it was just peer pressure.
You had four sacks against Iowa this past season. What was your mindset coming off of that dominant performance?
Odenigbo: I always knew that I could be the best player on the field and the best player of all time. My performance at Iowa kinda solidified that. It’s one thing to think of it, but now I have it in empirical data, and that helps you more. So knowing that, I was like, “hey man, I got four sacks in a game. No one can call that luck. Maybe you can get a sack or there, but four sacks, you made it happen. For me to just have that mental mindset, like, “I’m gonna take what’s mine.”
Off the field, Northwestern is one of the best schools in the nation academically. How important of a role does academics play in your life?
Odenigbo: Academics is essential: knowledge is power. That’s kinda like, me being here for the past five years of my life, we’ve had some pretty outstanding kids here at this school. Like, they blow my mind away in all aspects of life. Coming here was truly a great decision because I think I’m, like, truly woke of what’s going on ‘cuz of the people here.
When did you realize that you could play at an NFL level?
Odenigbo: I’d probably say around my redshirt freshman years when I had 5.5 sacks. In high school it was kinda like, “NFL, dude, you’re a top recruit, bro”, something like that. I’m like, whatever. Let me get to college first.
I think after getting sacks in Big Ten play, I’m like, “oh, this isn’t that hard to do.” I understood that these guys were great, (but) I’m a good player, too. As I’ve gotten older, all of those guys I went against, some of those guys are in the NFL right now. I was like, “oh, I got a sack off of him. Therefore, I should be in the NFL.” That’s kinda my mindset.
What do you think that you need to work on as you make the jump to the NFL?
Odenigbo: For me, it’s probably just the lifestyle. School’s kinda a hindrance, low key, or maybe high key. I’m excited. In the collegiate level this year, I got to really manhandle people and impose my will ‘cuz I happen to be a lot stronger than other people. But now, probably in the NFL, I’ll be going up against guys that are 30 and have kids that have that “daddy strength”. It’s kinda just finish my game up and bring in more passion and to be more of a student of the game. Instead of just going off of rawness, I’m gonna be like a surgeon doing an operation with a plan.
What team did you root for growing up?
Odenigbo: I was a San Diego Chargers fan, man. I remember watching the Chargers play and I watched LaDainian Tomlinson with the tinted visor and I was like, “dude, that dude is sick. I don’t even play football, but if I were, I want a tinted visor and I want to play running back.” The running back part never happened, safe with the tinted visor, so it was just a dream.
By the way, what did you think about the Chargers moving to Los Angeles?
Odenigbo: Yeah man, I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s just weird. The fact that I was like, “I’m a San Diego Chargers fan”. Am I an LA Chargers fan ? I don’t know. I’ve been to LA. LA and San Diego, they’re different, man. That LA traffic will take back 5 to 10 years of your life.
I went to LA this past summer and the traffic was just brutal.
Odenigbo: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, it’s just like, “oh no.” I remember, it was 2:30 and I was like, “there’s standstill traffic at 2:30. What is going on?”
It’s just killer. Next one here, which player or players do you model your game after?
Odenigbo: That’s a good question. I’ve never been a firm believer in modeling my game after someone. Everyone’s different. Regardless of what you say, even though your measurements might be similar, you are unique in your own way. It’s finding what you’re good at, finding your niche and getting good at it. I understand there are guys like the J.J. Watts and Von Millers of the world. I try to model my game after them, but I guarantee that if you asked those guys, they modeled their game after themselves. They watched the film, did their research and it’s like, “I need to improve this, I need to improve that.” That’s how they became the player they are today. For me, I don’t model my game after anyone, I model after myself.
What questions have NFL teams asked you in interviews?
Odenigbo: It’s kinda like right now, what we’re talking about. Just like my background, they wanna get a feel for me, like, “uh, when’d you play football, what’d you study, do you want to be a banker ‘cuz you’re an accounting major, blah blah blah. What do you plan on doing after football,” just basic questions like that. They wanna get a feel for me.
Let’s say I’m a general manager in the NFL. What would I be getting if I drafted you?
Odenigbo: You’d be getting a person that’s willing to do anything possible. Just know that this man, there’s no worries about this guy, and know that he’s gonna produce week in and week out.
– Jacob Infante is a National Editor for cover32 and also covers the Chicago Bears. He can be followed on Twitter @jacobinfante24.
– You can also follow Ifeadi on Twitter @IfeadiOdenigbo.