Great Ibe helping EMU overcome large challenges
Ypsilanti — Some players find it hard to live up to the hype and expectations around college football.
For Great Ibe, it's hard just living up to his name.
Ibe, a redshirt senior linebacker at Eastern Michigan, was the leading tackler last season with 133 and one of the top players on a team that had a tough season, but is raising its expectations under second-year coach Chris Creighton.
The Eagles open the season Saturday against Old Dominion and have put last year's 2-10 record (1-7 MAC) in the rearview mirror.
"Last year was a learning experience for everybody so we never want to act like it never happened," said Ibe, whose given first name is Kelechukwu — Nigerian for "The Lord is great."
He added: "We want to learn from everything, watch film and get better."
It's part of a culture change at Eastern Michigan, which hasn't had a winning record since going 6-5 in 1995. They've gone 2-10 in each of the last three seasons.
Ibe was a standout at the NAIA level at Concordia in Ann Arbor for a year before coming to Eastern. It's a path not many players make in their college football careers. He led the NAIA with 32.5 tackles for loss.
Still, he wanted more. Ibe decided to transfer to Eastern and try to walk on to the team. Once Creighton and his staff saw what Ibe brought to the table, he got a closer look. Then, when a starting linebacker was injured, Ibe made his way up to the starting lineup.
"He came here in an unconventional way and has worked his way into a senior leader and a very good player on our team," Creighton said. "He's worked incredibly hard, he's passionate about the game and guys definitely respond to him."
Ibe, from Hanover, Maryland, was in a good position to continue playing a significant role at Concordia, but left his comfort zone to try to reach a higher level by competing at Division I. That meant going back to walk-on status and having to work his way up the food chain again.
"It was a good experience and one of the best decisions I've made in my life," Ibe said. "Coming here and putting myself in a situation where I didn't know anybody and I wasn't the man, I earned everything I got.
"That's the best thing you can do. When you're comfortable and feeling lazy, you have to try to experience new things and try to become the best person you can be."
Changing schools also meant changing positions. At Concordia, Ibe was a rush defensive end but added 20 pounds of muscle in order to transition to linebacker at Eastern.
"It was a hard switch," he said. "It taught me not to play with physical attributes only, but to use my mind and anticipation and learning your opponent."
Old Dominion at Eastern Michigan
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti
Line: Old Dominion by 6