Lions Special Teams Ace, Isaiah Ekejiuba Interview
Isaiah Ekejiuba never played high school football, and only tried college football for the University of Virginia when he was first approached to try out for the team during his sophomore year. He had an immediate impact for the Cavaliers on Special Teams. He entered the 2005 NFL Draft, and signed as a UDFA with the Cardinals, but was cut. He then signed with the Oakland Raiders, and after a few weeks on the practice squad, he was promoted to the active roster. He played on Special Teams and in 2009, he was nominated to become a Pro Bowl alternate. [UPDATE: He was cut by the Raiders in the 2010 NFL offseason. He signed with the Detroit Lions.]
Strauss : So, Isaiah, did you watch a lot of American football growing up before high school?
Ekejiuba : When I was really young, my dad, my dad used to watch a lot of football, and I didn’t, really understand it, so I didn’t really watch it as much as he did.
Strauss : Did your dad have like a favorite football team that he was always watched?
Ekejiuba : He was a cowboys, *laughs*, when I was younger.
Strauss : What about you?
Ekejiuba : I didn’t really have what I would say was a favorite team, but I mean I just pretty much watched whatever game my dad was watching and that was pretty much it and spent some time with him, but I can’t say that I had a team that I was going to support because I really didn’t know much about the team, nor did I know much about the players on the team.
Strauss : Did you play football in High School?
Ekejiuba : No, I didn’t really play football in high school. I mean I had a roommate that played and he was really good, but I just kinda watched him, tried to go to the games, Coach tried to get me to play, just to get on there and kinda help the team, but at that point it wasn’t really my thing because, I thought I had played soccer and I wanted it and it felt like it was more fun for me at that point. But, obviously that changed.
Strauss : Do you still play soccer at all? Is it just football?
Ekejiuba : Mmm, every now and then, I kick the ball around, I don’t nothing too much like that for the risk of injury, offseason injuries that you don’t want or that I don’t plan, so I don’t do much of it anymore. I go kick the ball around with a couple friends, but we don’t take it too serious.
Strauss : Has soccer helped you at all in American Football?
Ekejiuba : Stamina aspect, and you have to think about your footwork, your coordination, soccer puts all that together, I mean apart from the stamina aspect of it. Your coordination, and the ability to be able to work within a group of people because you think about it, it’s all about teamwork. And, the easier it is for you to adapt to a team, the easier it is for everybody to get together and to be successful in that way, so I think that was one of the big things for me, team aspect, commodity, and just the agility in general.
Strauss : How long have you played football?
Ekejiuba : I played three years in college and this is my sixth year in the NFL right now, so, I’m going on nine years.
Strauss : W hat was it like to walk-on at University of Virginia, that’s a top school for football?
Ekejiuba : You know, it was, it was very scary at first, you know, but, it was a good experience because the environment was very welcoming. I had a lot of support from the guys that were already there and the coaching staff so, it made um, it made the transition, i mean the work was hard, but it made the transition pretty easy.
Strauss : Did you play any other sports, and that’s why it was such an easy transition?
Ekejiuba : Yeah, I played basketball, ran track, those are the main two things that I did, and doing that, just doing that, and just feel like you are somewhat athletic and then you want to try something different so that’s what it was for me. I knew I was somewhat athletic and I’d try some things. I didn’t think I’d get to the level I’m at right now. I just knew I could just try to be successful at something different.
Strauss : What was your best experience at University of Virginia?
Ekejiuba : My best experience at University of Virginia, wow I mean, I just had so many experiences I can’t really say that I could pick one over the over. I remember, I remember when my first game I played, it was against Duke, just making it out there, making my first tackle. That was the probably beginning of me, I look back at it now, and I didn’t think of it at then, but it was really the start of my career,just that first game I played for the Virginia Cavaliers, so that has to be pretty much what my experience is.
Strauss : What impact did Al Groh, the coach, have on your professional career?
Ekejiuba : Well, he gave me the opportunity to play, that’s what Al Groh did. As um, as the head coach, it’s ultimately his decision who plays and who doesn’t. So, he gave me the opportunity um to make the team, gave me the opportunity to eventually get on the field and play and he is a guy that came down from the NFL, so you already had an NFL-structured program, so once I got to the NFL, I already knew what to expect, I wasn’t shocked by it because I had gone through it in college.
Strauss : What was your whole draft experience like? Did you expect to be drafted? Or did you hear reports of when you should have landed?
Ekejiuba : No, I didn’t expect to get drafted for the simple fact that I didn’t enough film to go in there and say, alright this is what I’ve done, this is why you should draft me. But I did have a guy out of Arizona, by the name of Kevin O’Dea who was on the Jets for a while, so Kevin O’Dea, yeah he gave me a call and said, listen, we like you, we like what you’ve done on teams, we’re going to bring you in just to give you a chance, give you a look, and that’s really where it started for me. He gave me that opportunity and I went out there for Arizona and played for the first few games and it ended up that it didn’t work out, but he had given me that opportunity to put some film up there for other NFL teams and the Raiders picked me up. So, that’s the big thing because a lot of people don’t understand the value of the things you put on film, because somebody is always watching. You always hear that in the NFL, it doesn’t matter what you do, if it’s on film, somebody is always watching. So, whatever you do, you always have to do it to the best of your ability, and that’s how I got over here to Oakland and that’s why I’m trying to stay here for as long as I can and keep getting better what I do.
Strauss : What was the hardest jump like from college to the NFL?
Ekejiuba : I think the mental aspect of the game, a lot of things you do in college you got a lot of help from the coaches, watching film, studying your playbook, but now, you have to watch a lot of film on your own, and you see a lot of guys that really take it very serious and study day-in day-out. So I think that you know apart from the speed which you know the first thing you see is speed and size of the guys, it’s the mental preparation.
Strauss : Did you watch a lot of film in college? How’d you learn to really learn how to watch for film and prepare yourself?
Ekejiuba : I mean, I didn’t watch much film in college, because you know, like I said, we watched film with the coach. But in the NFL, when I first got here, when I first got to the Raiders, I was in Arizona first before I got to the Raiders, they got a guy here, Danny Clark, so he was sort of the veteran for us at that time and he started, teaching us how to watch more film and take notes, he’s, well, he was a big impact on just learning to do that. And, then you watching other guys that that have been in the league for a long time and asking them how they’ve been successful, a lot of them say it was a lot of film study, so it was just watching the veterans.
Strauss : Could you have predicted how far football would’ve taken you?
Ekejiuba : No, honestly, I would have never expected to hit on, to be who I am, I never to the life of me thought that I would be this far in my career. It’s just been a blessing, year in, year out trying to make the team. But, I feel like I’ve been very blessed. I have a lot of good positive people around me, role models to help me stay focused in everything I do, And, it is just crazy that I’ve come this far. you said I was an alternate, but I actually want to go to the Pro Bowl and play, so I’m looking to get better.
Strauss : So you like mentioned role models, who was your role model when you were growing up?
Ekejiuba : Um, but growing up, my role model was my mom, um, she just did everything she did, she was just successful she made us be focused in school and do all that and I think I get my work ethic from her, because she was such a hard worker and such a positive person that it became contagious to all of us, so I would have to say my biggest role model I say my mom, but it just I didn’t watch the game much when I was growing up, and I was able to focus and pick things up and she gave me that focus and dedication.
Strauss : Special Teams, You got to be sick to run down field, going full steam like full speed and everything willing to hit a guy and decapitate him.
Ekejiuba : Yeah definitely, there’s definitely a mentality to like you said, run down there full speed, um, some people are willing to do it, and others aren’t, it’s how do you feel, feel about it, to me, I’ve gotten better at it every year because I think I pick one person in my mind I don’t think they’re better than me so I just have to go down there and prove it every time. So, that’s my attitude.
Strauss : So you pride yourself on special teams and the impact.
Ekejiuba : Absolutely, special teams is often overlooked, and it’s just you think about the field position game that a lot of people don’t worry about special teams aspect of it, but it plays a lot of roles, in field position, if you make a tackle on a kickoff inside the twenty, then the offense has got to drive at least eighty yards to score a touchdown on you. And, people just overlook little things like that. we take pride especially out here in Oakland, we take pride in our special teams because we want to be the best every year, and we want to keep improving. It’s a lot, like I said, a lot of people you look at the wide receivers that scored a touchdown, and the quarterbacks that throw the touchdown. Yeah, you try to get them in good field position, I mean if you have a great quarterback, they’re going to drive that eighty yards to go score, but you don’t want your team to drive eighty yards every time they touch the ball, it’s just unrealistic, to score points like that all the time.
Strauss : What’s something your teammates don’t know about you?
Ekejiuba : Something my teammates don’t know about me, I mean, pretty much all my teammates know everything about me just because we’re so close and we always hang out together and go out together.
Strauss : So you don’t have no embarrassing story?
Ekejiuba : Uhh, I’ve definitely run into our kick returner one time and tackled him, so that wasn’t fun, Johnny Lee Higgins, so he wasn’t very happy about that, so we still talk about that, but that’s pretty much it, in terms of a little blunder like that.
Strauss : What’s your best memory on the Raiders?
Ekejiuba : Best memory on the Raiders, honestly when I made the team, it seems like such a small thing, but you have to think that you’re fighting for your job, every year, so that first year, I came back and I made the team, that was probably about as excited as I’ve been about it, I think I called everyone I knew and told them and then hopefully, my next best experience will be us winning the AFC West, and going out there to the playoffs and making a splash.
Strauss : Do you have a favorite quote?
Ekejiuba : Hmmm, I’ll say, favorite quote, um, I can’t think of one now just off the top of my head. I think about it like this, everyday I wake up I say, “The more they doubt me, the harder I work to prove them wrong,” and that’s just in everything, not just in football, just in life, the more people doubt you about things, the more ammunition you need to go. I mean, a lot of people aren’t self motivators, but if you are, that’s great. If not, sometimes it takes somebody telling you can’t do something for you to go do it. So, that’ll probably be it.
Strauss : For someone like me, a high school student, and even people in college they want to make it in the NFL, what’s the best advice you can give to someone?
Ekejiuba : One of the best things I can tell you is, one, listen to those that have been there, before you get anywhere, there have always been people that have done it before you. For me, when I was a rookie, it was a lot of vets, with the Warren Sapps, and the Randy Mosses, Ted Washington, Jerry Porter, those guys, so the biggest thing is whatever you do, do it your best, the best of your ability, don’t look back and say, man, I wish could have done that, so maybe things would have changed for me. Don’t have any regrets, whatever you do, do it right the first time so you don’t have to come back and do it again. And that’s one of the biggest things I have, do everything to the best of your ability and it will pay off for you.
Strauss : Like trying to achieve a goal, what’s the hardest thing you’re trying to achieve?
Ekejiuba : Right now, the thing you want to do out here, the number one goal is to win the Super Bowl, when you are a champion there is no feeling like it. It can’t be taken away from you. So, beyond personal goals, personal expectations of yourself, and you know I would love to go to the Pro bowl, but beyond that I would love to go play in the Super Bowl, and win the Super Bowl, and that takes precedence over everything else. That’d be a dream come true for me.
Strauss : Thank you so much Isaiah Ekejiuba!
Ekejiuba : Ekejiuba, yeah.
Strauss : YEAH!! I got it, so Thank you.