Patriots S, James Ihedigbo Interview
James Ihedigbo played college football at the University of Massachusetts. He was the Team MVP and a Team Captain during his senior year at UMass. He entered the 2007 NFL Draft, but was undrafted. He then played for the NY Jets for four years. This interview was conducted after the 2010 NFL season was over. [Update: He just recently signed with the Patriots before the 2011 season. He totaled 69 tackles this season while starting at safety.]
Announcement : My name is Max Strauss with
. I’d like to welcome you to the interview with James Ihedigbo. James was a walk-on at the football program at UMass in 2002. He played with them from 2003 to 2006. He entered the 2007 NFL Draft, but went undrafted. He has played with the Jets organization since 2007. He has been a primary Special Teams player and situational pass rusher. Anyways, here is the interview with James and I hope you enjoy the collages.
Strauss : How do you connect with your fans?
Ihedigbo : I connect with them through twitter… Through meeting them at games… At events… Through Facebook… Really, anyway possible in which I can. I also send them autographs.
Strauss : Who was your childhood star?
Ihedigbo : I grew up watching Brian Dawkins. I really admired the way he played the game and growing up, I replicated my style of play after him. In terms of his play-making ability, and the passion in the way he played the game.
Strauss : Have you ever met him?
Ihedigbo : I did have an opportunity to meet him. In my rookie preseason, after a preseason game, one that we played the Eagles in. I ran by him and got a chance to catch up with him after the game. I told him who much I admired him and how he made the biggest impact in terms of getting to where I’m at now. He was pretty humbled.
Strauss : If you could meet anyone you haven’t met before, who would it be?
Ihedigbo : Geez… Wow. That’s a tough one. I would possibly choose Michael Jordan, only because he’s such a perfectionist on the court. For him to bring the best out of his teammates, I would try to pick his brain in terms of how he commanded that from from his teammates day in and day out, talk about his approach to doing that.
Strauss : What was your high school experience like?
Ihedigbo : It was a fun one. My first season when I moved up from JV to Varsity as a freshman, I didn’t play too much. During my sophomore year, playing a little bit more, I helped lead my team to a state championship. During my junior year, I really became a leader, I also played a lot more, I was 2nd-Team All State. Then, senior year, I really blossomed and I was captain, defensive MVP, All-State first team, and it was really a flourishing time for me. It was fun. We had a chance to win a lot of games and be successful.
Strauss : You were a walk-on at UMass, right?
Ihedigbo : Yeah. Growing up in the small of town of Amherst, and a lot of schools came to watch me play, but they weren’t really offering me much, whether it was Boston College to Delaware to Holy Cross to UMass to Northeastern at the time. A lot of people were interested in me. But, none of them offered me a scholarship to play, they all wanted me to walk on. I chose UMass because it was closer to home. I walked on there, and by the end of the spring semester of me being there, I earned a scholarship towards my ability of playing at this higher level which was a blessing in itself.
Strauss : Do you have a favorite memory form UMass days?
Ihedigbo : My favorite memory would have to be playing UNHduring my senior year. Playing them in the playoffs. There were four seconds left, we’re up by two, and they had the ball on the seven yard-line. It’s fourth down, they’re going for it. They ran a press out. I end up getting a piece of the ball and batting it down. I remember the fans and everybody storming the field after winning that game.
Strauss : Even though you were undrafted, what was your draft day experience like?
Ihedigbo : A lot of broken promises.. sorta speak. I met with the Cincinnati Bengals. They were highly interested in me at the time, and actually called and said, “We are going to draft you in the sixth or seventh round.” In the third and fourth round, they drafted a safety. In the seventh round, they took a defensive lineman. They brought me into camp and clearly I was better then both safeties, but they passed up on me, and they said, if something opens up in the season that they’ll call me. Before I even got home, I got a call from the Jets, and they invited me to tryouts and wanted me to walk on. I did that. I kind of pulled my hamstring during rookie minicamp and didn’t even let it slow me down… I played through it. Showing that determination and heart was what got me a position on the Jets team. I continue to grind and work my way through. As a rookie and being the seventh safety on the roster, it was a tough position. But, to be able to fight it out with everybody else and to see where I’m at now, it’s definitely a testament to God’s blessing and hard work.
Strauss : Didn’t you win King Ugly?
Ihedigbo : Yeah, that’s messed up man!
Strauss : What is that?
Ihedigbo : What it is…it’s kind of the last day of training camp, they kind of do a whole rookie show. They do skits of memories we all had as a group and impersonations and all that. And, in King Ugly, there are prizes for everybody. Third place gets 25% of the money, 2nd place gets 75% of the money, and 1st place gets nothing. Of course, I got voted number one for King Ugly.
Strauss : So coming out of college, you were known for being a blitzing safety. Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine like to blitz a lot. What’s it like to have these coaches utilize you in a similar situation?
Ihedigbo : It’s great because in college, I was a safety that had twelve and a half sacks in my last two years. It’s kind of something… I’m more than accustom to doing it and I’m good at doing it. Coming into the NFL, my first two seasons being with them as a coaching staff and three sacks on the years. It’s good that they utilize me in pressure, and it’s something that I’m very good at doing and it’s one of my strengths, getting guys to miss and getting after the quarterback. It’s a scheme where you’re asked to do a lot, know a lot, and remember a lot for each of the positions. Once you get that down, it’s a lot of fun and there is a lot of versatility to the defense.
Strauss : What’s it like to play for Mike Westhoff on Special Teams?
Ihedigbo : It’s fun. He’s a guy who is definitely going to get after you, motivate you, and push you to the limits and to achieve what you didn’t thinks was possible. He definitely has his own particular way to doing things, but he’s a guy that is all about results. He forces you to get the best results possible.
Strauss : Do you have a favorite memory with the Jets so far?
Ihedigbo : I think my favorite memory so far was beating the San Diego Chargers in San Diego last season. The amount of support we had from Jets fans that were at the game, we really enjoyed winning. Leading up to it, it was Charges this and Chargers that, and we went down there and whooped them up and down the field. That’s a great one.
Strauss : So, your celebration, what’s it really called?
Ihedigbo : It’s called, “The Digg.”
Strauss : And, what inspired you to do this?
Ihedigbo : It’s really inspired from my relentless mentality on the field in terms of not essentially digging a hole and burying people, but… “I’m going to try to hit you so hard, I’m going to put you through the ground!” My nickname being “Digz”… it kind of solidifies the fact that, “I got you! I’m coming back for more.”
Strauss : When did you start doing this?
Ihedigbo : I have a package on defense called, “The Digg”, and it’s kind of like digging a shovel, that’s what the signal is, for the package for me to go on the field. They’re like, “Dig! Dig!” And, they dig a shovel into the ground. I went to my defensive line coach at the time and I was like, “I’m going to do that as my celebration.” He was like, “Alright… Okay, Let’s see how it works.” In a preseason game, we were playing the Giants, I hit a guy in the backfield and I kind of scooped him up and slammed him into the ground and did “The Digg” afterwards. The crowd kind of roared. I was like, “Alright! That’s going to be my celebration from here on out.”
Strauss : Who’s had the most impact on your pro career?
Ihedigbo : Wow. Whew! That’s a tough one. There is are a lot of people. I’m going to say my dad had the most impact on my pro career. He past away my senior year of high school. From when I was in pop warner, he was at every game…even JV in high school. He never missed a game. He was there at every single game whether I was playing basketball, whether I was playing lacrosse, whether I was playing football. He was always there and giving me pointers and telling me what to focus on. He was there every single game. And, for him to pass away right before I flourished into my career, I know that he’s watching every single game. I literally play every single game to prove to him that I know you’re proud. But, I’m going to prove it to you and make you proud each game.
Strauss : What does your last name mean?
Ihedigbo : Ihedigbo means the tribe of Igbo. I am Igbo. That’s what my name means.
Strauss : I’ve seen you have done charity work with the Hope Africa Foundation, what is that?
Ihedigbo : It’s an educational-based foundation. It’s an opportunity to give to underprivileged children in terms of giving them an opportunity to achieve education at a higher level. I’m actually going to Nigeria this March, next month actually, with Amobi Okoye of the Houston Texans. We’re both doing a football clinic for four days and an educational clinic and help people down there for four days in four different cities. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Strauss : That’s really cool that you’re doing that in the offseason. If you had to describe yourself as an Ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?
Ihedigbo : Whew! Any ice cream flavor… I would have to say chocolate chip cookie dough because it’s smooth, and a got a good flavor to it, but it also provides that toughness to it. At the same time as you’re enjoying it, you’ll come across a lot of chunks sorta speak. That’s me being a smooth and carried guy, and on the field being rough, dude you don’t want to mess with.
Strauss : What’s your favorite quote?
Ihedigbo : “Much is given. Much is expected.”
Strauss : For someone who wants to play football in the NFL, what’s the best advice you can give?
Ihedigbo : It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. It comes with a sacrifice, debating yourself everyday, being determined, and being dedicated to your craft. They say, one of the hardest things is to get to the NFL, and then they say, one of the harder things is to stay in the NFL, going against the best guys and world-class athletes. Really, just be determined. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Stay focused and goal-oriented at all times. If you’re one of those people that take a vacation during spring break in college, you got to put in extra work and have that passion for working out, and to train your body to be better then the next guy. There’s a million people that want your job, and there’s only one slot. You have to separate yourself from the best.
Strauss : Is there anything you want to tell your fans or Jets fans that we have not talked about?
Ihedigbo : No, not at all. I love and enjoy being a New York Jet. I hope that I’m a Jet for the rest of my career. Mike Tannenbaum has given me an opportunity that if you think about it, very few if any, had ever achieved int he NFL, to be walk-on and now to be in the position I am in. And, I’m working with guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor, being able to play in just as many Championship games together, and I’m only in my fourth year. It’s an opportunity I couldn’t be even more humbled by. I appreciate being a New York Jet, and I love it. I want to be a Jet for the rest of my career, but we’ll see what happens.
Strauss : Thank you so much for your time. James I really appreciate it.
Ihedigbo : Thank you man! Have a good one bro!
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