* Last Monday, at his weekly press conference, 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald tore into the performance of his kicking team against Syracuse ("We stunk"), and then dropped in this declaration. "I don't like stinking. And I don't like when guys don't execute what they're coached to do. So we're going to make personnel changes. We made a bunch of personnel changes in the game. We played 44 guys. We're not going to go through what we went through last year. We're going to find the best 11 and get them on the field."
And what, we later asked him, did he exactly mean by "We're not going to go through what we went through last year"?
* An intriguing prospect is set to enter that equation for his team's home opener Saturday night against Vanderbilt. That would be true freshman defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, the former high school All American who will enter the rotation (as a backup to Tyler Scott) in the stead of injured Deonte Gibson. "I was next in line. So I'm pretty excited that I finally get a chance to play," he said after a recent practice, and then he said much more. So here a quick look at this recruit who incited much internet chatter when he signed with the 'Cats.
Both his parents are from Nigeria ... His full name is Ifeadi Kachakwu Anthony Odenigbo. The first two names mean "Nothing's greater than God." The third is for St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost articles in the Catholic Church (which his parents belong to). "My dad lost something really important, and you pray to St. Anthony to help you find it," he explained. "So when my dad found it, he said he'd name his second born Anthony. That's how I got Anthony."
He played soccer as a child, and didn't take up football until he was a sophomore in high school. "I'd tell my parents I want to play football, but they're like, 'No, no,'" he recalled. "They didn't get this American sport. They wondered why people were hitting each other in the head. So my parents told me if I had a 3.5 (GPA) my freshman year, they'd let me play football. So I did that my freshman year, and played football my sophomore year." His parents, who will be at Saturday's game along with a grandmother from Nigeria, are still not fully versed in football. "I have a story to tell you," said their son. "My junior year, our team scored a touchdown and my dad jumped up and started yelling, 'Home run. Home run.' They're getting better at it. My dad's really trying hard to understand it. But he's like, 'If it makes you happy, I'm happy.'"
He earned his high school honors as a 205-pound defensive end, but his weight concerned Fitzgerald and linebacker coach Randy Bates when they visited on a recruiting trip. "They just looked at me and 'M-m-m-m. This kid can't be a D-end. We can try him at linebacker,'" he remembered with a laugh.
He, in fact, first worked as a linebacker when the 'Cats set up last month in Camp Kenosha. "I was kind of hesitant," he said of those days. "But they kept making me do pass rushing drills, and they came to realize that was my true bread-and-butter. So they moved me to D line, and it's been going pretty well."
He now goes 6-foot-3, 230, and he has a ready explanation for his weight gain. "The biggest issue, everyone was concerned about me gaining weight," he said. "But I ran track. I ran the 400 meters, the 300 hurdles. It's kind of hard to gain weight when you're running in circles. Now that I'm not running in circles, it's pretty easy to gain weight.". . . Still, even at 230, he is undersized for his position, yet he concluded by saying, "My plan right now is to put on more weight, but I'm not really worried about the size. The (high) school I went to consisted of 3,000 people, so kids I'd go against every week would weight from 280 to 300. I had a lot of Division I athletes in my area, so I'm not worried about that."
* An axiom among college coaches is that a team makes its biggest improvement of the season between weeks one and two. "It can be, if you work at it," agreed Fitzgerald. "Why? Number one, you've been out in a game. We had 15 guys play their first college game on Saturday. 'Wow. This is cool. Oh, yeah, this is neat.' Then someone punches you in the throat. 'M-m-m-m, I'm in a ballgame.' They're over that now. Now it's time to settle in and get your habits going in a typical game week."
* Before his 'Cats took on Syracuse, Fitzgerald said he liked his team's practice personality, but still did not know what that personality would be in a game. Does he have a better idea now after their win over the Orange?
"I thought we came out after some adversity and responded well in the first quarter. Went in (at halftime) with the lead. I thought we came out in the third quarter, took to the adjustments and extended that lead. But then we kind of lost momentum there. . .(and) we did not handle the momentum shift well there for about 12 minutes. But the guys didn't panic, the coaches didn't panic. We got into a bad situation and at that point it's just, 'Let's find a way to win. Let's get the job done.'. . .That's what happened. So after one game I would say the personality is we were a little bit too much of a rollercoaster, a little too inconsistent in game to be successful moving forward."
* Quickly noted:
Vandy returned 8 of its 11 defensive starters and, in its four-point, opening-game loss to No. 9 South Carolina, that unit held the Gamecocks to a mere 272 yards of total offense ... Its own offense is guided by senior Jordan Rodgers, whose older brother Aaron guides the offense of the Green Bay Packers ... Also keep an eye on the Commodores' 5-foot-9, 210-pound running back Zac Stacy. "I think he's as good a running back as there is in the country," Fitzgerald said of him. "He's physical. You can see his athleticism in the way he's able to catch the ball out of the backfield. And then he's a dynamic return man. So a lot like Venric (Mark), but bigger." ... Asked about playing his home opener at night, Fitzgerald said, "I like Ryan Field at night. I think it's pretty special. For the guys, I think it reminds them of playing high school football. There's something special about playing under the lights."
* And finally, Fitzgerald, on the 'Cats' propensity for close games: "It's funny. Jerry Brown (the defensive backs coach). We call (blowouts) a hot dog game. He's been here 20 years. This is Jerry's 20th season. I asked Jerry, 'Jerry, how many games in the fourth quarter have you been eating a hot dog in the press box in 20 years?' He could name them. That's not a good sign, right. He could name the games. But, hey. It is what it is. The bottom line is to find a way to win."