Breakout receiver Umodu making a name for himself
Every Saturday a hulking figure can be seen at the wide receiver position. As he stands his large size is quickly thrown into focus. At the snap of the ball he explodes from his stance, powering forward and then arching fluidly towards the center of the field. He turns his head and the ball hits him square on the chest — like clockwork. At the play’s conclusion he flashes a smile and returns to the huddle and repeats the process.
He is Ify Umodu, NAU football’s sophomore wide receiver and he is quickly establishing himself as one of the most formidable and dynamic play makers in the Big Sky Conference (BSC).
Umodu’s football career began at the age of five when his mother enrolled him in a local Pop Warner football league. Due to his already noticeable height, league officials did not believe he was five and required Umodu to play above his division with the 7-8 year olds.
Growing up, Umodu was constantly inspired by his older brothers Tobin and Kebin, who were football standouts in high school. They went on to play at the collegiate level for UCLA and the Air Force Academy, respectively.
Umodu had been playing at the running back position going into high school. Freshmen year he was not named the starter and was relegated to a backup spot, which mostly involved blocking and catching out of the backfield.
“After the first game, I caught my first pass and scored,” Umodu said. “And I was like ‘Hey, I can get used to this, it’s way easier than running back.’”
That marked the beginning of Umodu’s transition to wide receiver. He went on to have four stellar seasons at West Covina, California’s South Hills High School, where he helped lead the Huskies to four consecutive championships and captured All-CIF and All-League First Team honors. Before signing his letter of intent to play football for the Lumberjacks, Umodu also considered San Jose State, Villanova and UCLA.
Last year, Umodu spent the majority of his freshmen season watching from the sidelines. Looking back, he believes it was beneficial from both a personal and football standpoint.
“I think it was actually a great experience because it was humbling,” Umodu said. “I just had to sit there and watch and I wanted to be out there, I’d do anything to be out there. But there were some seniors in front of me that I just had to learn from. I really took that time to learn how to prepare for a game, and how to act during a game, after a game, before a game. All of that stuff all came together. This year I go into a game, I feel so comfortable.”
Wide receiver coach Francis St. Paul admitted Umodu possessed the necessary physical skills to start freshmen year, but that he lacked expansive knowledge and familiarity with the offensive system.
“Ability-wise, I think he could have played last year, he just mentally he wasn’t as far along as [last year’s senior starter Daiveun Curry-Chapman],” St. Paul said. “He got better every day. He learned from him, he learned from watching older guys and now this is his time to shine and he has started the season very well off.”
Umodu’s tireless work ethic is another primary reason he has enjoyed so much success this season.
“He loves to learn. Any free time he has during the day he comes in [and he] wants to watch extra film and go over the game plan,” St. Paul said. “Before practice he is out there by himself working out, working on the things that he messed up on the practice before. To see that in a young kid, it shows when he gets older how much better he is going to be.”
So far this season, Umodu has amassed 422 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is currently averaging 14.6 yards per catch and 84.4 yards per game.
Standing at the imposing height of 6’3 and sporting a formidable 215-pound frame, Umodu is a difficult player for defensive backs to effectively cover. With opposing cornerbacks often standing no taller than 5’11, Umodu’s inherent physical stature and jumping ability give him a strong athletic advantage on the field.
“He plays like he is 6’6,” St. Paul said. “He loves to play basketball and obviously he can jump, so with his height and those long arms and that jumping ability, it makes him 6’6 -6’7. It’s easier for the quarterback to get the ball to him because if it is close to him, he is going to bring it down.”
Starting junior quarterback Cary Grossart said he enjoys the experience of throwing to such a large target.
“He is not only 6’3, but he is a great athlete,” Grossart said. “He has big huge hands, he is a weapon. He runs great routes and, God, he is fast. He has all the weapons you need to be a great receiver.”
Through direct communication, Umodu and Grossart have managed to establish a solid passing rapport with each other.
“It’s great when you can actually, during practice, talk to a QB about things to fix and things to get better on so you guys both get on the same page when it comes down to the game,” Umodu said. “Working on the same level every time, [by] game time it comes together.”
Every Saturday, Umodu expects nothing less than 100 percent effort from himself while on the field.
“My number one goal is to try to do everything I can to help the team win,” Umodu said. “If I feel like after a game I didn’t either get the opportunity to do all I can or I physically didn’t do all I can, it’s not a good game for me, I need to do everything I can to make sure it happens.”
When asked about his primary inspiration in life, Umodu did not hesitate in answering.
“My mom. Ever since I was a kid she would always talk about things she would want and things that she needed and stuff,” Umodu said. “Ever since I was a kid I was just thinking to myself ‘I have to do whatever I can to make sure all her dreams come true.’ I don’t even care about my dreams, but if her dreams come true, and her dreams are the same as my dreams, so by thinking like that it makes it so much easier for me, ‘cause I don’t even have to think about me, I just have to think about her.”
Umodu’s mother has attended each of his home games this season, and he makes a point of taking his mother out to eat at the 1899 Bar and Grill after each home game.
While Umodu is not picky about the routes he runs, he does have one favorite.
“My favorite route is easily the post, because you run straight, he thinks you’re going to fade, you stick it, take it high and you’re open every time,” Umodu said. “We’ve been working on that route a lot; it is my favorite route. It always works.”
When looking to the future, Umodu has his sights set on making it into the NFL. St. Paul, a former NFL wide receiver, believes that while Umodu still has a long way to go, he definitely has the potential to play at the professional level.
“He is still young and still [has] a ways to go, but [if] he keeps on progressing the way he think[s] he is, [then] most definitely,” St. Paul said. “For somebody that size and his quickness, he isn’t a true burner, but he has great size, great body control and great quickness. I know definitely in the NFL, great NFL receivers have speed, but he has the other things that they also look for. I’m going to do everything in my power to hopefully try to get him there, but it will definitely be up the hill.”
Umodu will only continue to grow as a player and a person over the next several years. Every Saturday, he takes to the field with his mother’s dreams mounted firmly on his shoulder pads.