The Amazing Journey of Ifeadi Odenigbo

Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Odenigbo family schedule was set that weekend — as it had to be with two sons playing football in the Big Ten.

Linda Odenigbo would head to Lincoln, Nebraska, to watch Illinois and her youngest son, Tito, a defensive lineman, face the Cornhuskers. Her husband, Thomas, would be off to Iowa City, Iowa, where Northwestern and the Odenigbos’ second-oldest son, Ifeadi, a defensive end, would be playing the Hawkeyes.

But something didn’t feel right. Linda knew she had to head to Iowa. The Wildcats had lost three of their first four games, and Ifeadi, in his final season, wasn’t his usual upbeat self.

“He had been having a rough time,” Linda said. “He was just sad. I called up Tito and said maybe I should go to Iowa. . . . Boy, was I glad I went to Iowa.”

If she hadn’t, she would have missed the best game of Ifeadi’s college career: a school-record four sacks and a forced fumble in a 38-21 victory.

“He had career day. There is no question about that,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said of one of his most prized recruits.

It was a dominant display of strength, speed and relentlessness — Ifeadi’s defining moment.

“I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Linda said. “I was just so happy for him.”

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Several years earlier, during the high school playoffs in Ohio, Ifeadi was a junior standout for Centerville, a local powerhouse responsible for producing NFL players. Centerville had just scored against Wayne High, which was led by future Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

Football might have been new for Thomas as a Nigerian immigrant, but he knew he had to celebrate.

“[He] stood up — all 6-4 of him — and started screaming, ‘Home run! Home run!’ ” Linda said, laughing. “We still tease him about that.”

It’s a favorite family memory from a point in the Odenigbos’ lives when football had started to change them.

The sport wasn’t on the family’s radar when Linda first left Nigeria for the United States with the couple’s oldest son, Somto, in 1992. (Thomas would visit before making his final move three years later.)

With a medical degree from the University of Iloria, Linda did her residency at Harlem Hospital Center in New York. She was pregnant with Ifeadi at the time.

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Source: Chicago Sun Times | Adam L. Jahns