CENTERVILLE — Northwestern University scored a rare victory over Stanford and Notre Dame on Saturday when Ifeadi Odenigbo of Centerville High School verbally committed to play football for the Wildcats.
A much sought-after defensive end, the senior drew interest from most of the nation’s big-time programs, including Ohio State. However, the Buckeyes’ hope of landing him faded after multiple coaching changes, including last month’s hiring of head coach Urban Meyer.
“(Former OSU) Coach Tressel leaves, then (former head) Coach (Luke) Fickell is recruiting me, and then he’s the defensive coordinator,” Odenigbo explained.
“Then (new) Coach (Urban) Meyer. I thought it was way too short to have a relationship with him.”
Instead, he’s the prize recruit of Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. The program at Evanston, Ill., has always been a tough sell for five-star athletes because of its high academic entry standards. In that way, Northwestern often competes — and loses — with Stanford and Notre Dame for the same recruits.
He ultimately decided that Stanford, located in Palo Alto, Calif., was too far away. He bonded with Northwestern players and Fitzgerald, a former All-American linebacker at Northwestern, during an official visit.
Odenigbo announced his decision among friends and family at his home. He called Fitzgerald from Disney World on New Year’s Day to relay his decision.
“I said, ‘Coach, I want to be a Wildcat,’ ” Odenigbo recalled. “He said, ‘What? What?’ He started yelling at his wife. He was so happy.
“He’s a passionate coach. It really reminds me of Centerville football.”
A 6-foot-4, 220-pound defensive end, Odenigbo will move to the Will, or weak side, linebacker in college.
Northwestern was 6-7 last season and last in the Big Ten in sacks with 17. Odenigbo should help improve that stat. An outstanding sprinter on the Elks track and field team, he was extremely effective charging off the edge. He had two sacks for the Black team in last Thursday’s Under Armour All-American football game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
He’s the 20th recruit to verbally commit to Northwestern and easily the most high-profile. He was ranked among the nation’s top 150 seniors by ESPNU and was the ninth-rated defensive end in the nation by the website rivals.com, which also had him fourth overall in Ohio.
He’ll be at least the fifth former Elk to play football in the Big Ten next fall. Senior teammate and offensive lineman Benny McGowen is headed to Michigan State. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett just finished his freshman season at OSU. Also, brothers Adam and Mike Replogle are defensive players at Indiana.
College coaches are not allowed to comment about recruits now. The first day that seniors can sign national letters of intent is Feb. 1. Odenigbo, whose parents are from Nigeria, plans to run track this spring and graduate with his class in June.
He’s already working in Northwestern’s best football interests.
“I’m hoping that by me committing there, hopefully I can attract a lot more big-time recruits to Northwestern,” Odenigbo said. “That’s the plan. It only takes one guy to make that happen.”
Contact this writer at (937) 225-2381 or mpendleton@DaytonDailyNews.com.
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