Ifo Ekpre-Olomu could have already been playing in the NFL. Most analysts thought the Oregon cornerback would have been drafted if he had come out last year as a junior. But Ekpre-Olomu returned to Eugene for his senior season for one reason: the College Football Playoff. He wanted to be a part of it and he felt his Oregon team had a strong chance to win it all.
After a stellar senior season, he was named an All-American and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the best cornerback in college football. The top-ranked Ducks were set to take on defending champion Florida State in the playoff semifinals, and Ekpre-Olomu was poised to realize his dream of playing for a title.
He wouldn't get the chance. In a practice session before the Florida State game, Ekpre-Olumo tore his ACL, a blow to both his team and his draft stock. Once considered a certain first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu now faces major rehab and questions about his future. But as he works toward his comeback at Proactive Sports Performance in Orange County, California, Ekpre-Olomu is undeterred. "I definitely have no regrets," he said. Here's what else he told STACK when we sat in on his preparations for the 2015 NFL Draft.
STACK: Your injury caused you to miss the first College Football Playoffs semifinals and championship. It also shook up your NFL Combine training. How difficult was all of that?
Ekpre-Olomu: It definitely sucked, because we were getting ready for the Rose Bowl, and knowing that this is your last couple games and you get to have a chance to really showcase your skills, you want to finish strong. To have it happen at practice, it does suck, but at the same time I had so much support at Oregon, so that really gave me a lot of confidence in the long run. When I got to California the week of Christmas, I was able to get into the surgery room fast, and from there I never looked back. You know it happened to you, but you have to think about how you're going to improve from there.
Any lingering regrets for not leaving school early, because of the injury?
I think that's just the price you pay when you play football. You never really know what can happen, and that's why you really have to cherish every moment you have on the field, because you never know when it could be your last. I definitely have no regrets. I wanted to come back to school. I wanted to finish my last year, and obviously we were so close to getting that national championship, so it definitely meant a lot to come back this last year for school. As far as moving on forward into the draft, I think this is really just gonna make me a stronger person and just give me that added motivation.
How long have you been out here training?
I've been out here for almost two weeks now.
How is the training at Proactive Sports Performance different from what you did at Oregon?
I would say at Oregon, it's more about football emphasis. You work on just football drills. I'd say a lot of Power Cleans, a lot of stuff like that. Squats and stuff. And when you get here and you have an individual trainer, they're able to really focus on what you need to work on and what you need to improve to be quicker, faster and stronger. That all translates to football, and I'd say the biggest difference here really is, through each workout, through each set, you have somebody there and they're focusing on you. They're telling you you can get one more rep or to get your shoulders back a little bit more so you can focus on that muscle. I think that's really the biggest difference.
What's a typical training day like for you?
Usually you do rehab six out of seven times through the week. I'm here every day in the mornings, so—wake up, get to treatment by around 7:45. That's about two hours. And then from there we go back downstairs, eat lunch, do all that type of stuff, and then you come back up for workouts at 12:45. That's when we—right now since I'm limited, they're having me do either upper-body lifts, normally three times a week, lower body and core. They mix that in between the days, or we do full-body lifts some days.
You mentioned core work. We watched you do some pretty intense exercises dedicated to that area. How's that been going?
It just feels great getting an opportunity to go back out there and work out again. When I first had the injury, I had to take a couple weeks off—I'd say almost four and a half weeks—so just getting your body back into working out every day, it makes you feel better every day. As far as the core and upper body, it definitely is helping me really focus on stuff that I needed to focus on before I was injured. It's making sure that when I come back that there will be no limits.
Aside from core work, what's the biggest thing you've been working on here?
For the most part, being a defensive back, you want to work on your lower body, but since I'm not able to work on one leg, I've been trying to focus on my right leg and my hips. I'm trying to focus on getting a lot stronger but at the same time getting more flexible. I think that's something that we've really been targeting, and it feels like it's working so far this first two weeks.
Is it helpful to be able to work with [Texas A&M offensive lineman] Cedric Ogbeuhi, who's also attempting to come back from a torn ACL?
Yeah, I think so. Especially having a bigger guy like that. He's a lot stronger than me, so it really just pushes me every single day. When you see him putting on weight, and you know he's 300-something pounds, and then I'm a cornerback, it really just gives me that added motivation. Every day I can just put five more pounds on or I can go one more extra set. And having a partner to work out with you every day brings out the best in both of you. Especially when you're working out by yourself, you might want stop a little early, but then when you look over and you see your partner keep going, it really just pushes both of you guys.
How has it been getting to know him?
I think it's been really great getting to know him. He's a really good guy, and you can tell that he's a hard worker, and that's why he's at the position that he's at today. There's a bunch of guys here that have been really showing the way and really have been a good example, and everybody wants to compete. Having guys like this who are all hard-working guys—down to earth—really is a great environment to work out in.
Have you been staying in touch with your family while you've been out here?
It is kind of different because my house is so close to here, so I definitely can get there whenever I need to. At the same time, I want to have some separation and I want to be focused. Having my parents so close, if they need to tell me something or if they want to see me, they can come out here, and that's great. Being in school, you really didn't have much time where you could be outside of the school, maybe a week at a time for four years, so I'd say getting an opportunity to come back home and be here for the next couple months feels really good.
You mention motivation. What's really driving you? All this work you've been putting in, who is it for?
You're so close to getting to your dream—you've been dreaming about this since you were 7, 8 years old, and now we're right there, a couple months away. I think this is really for all the people that have supported me throughout the entire way. People have been there for me, whether it's been my mom and dad taking me to practice from Pop Warner all the way until going to every single game in college. You have all these people supporting you, and it's for them too. I definitely don't want to let them down, but at the same time, I want to capitalize on all the opportunities and abilities that I've been given.
So after all of this, when you hear your name called on draft day, who's the first person you're going to hug?
For draft day, definitely my family is going to be there. My girlfriend. My next-door neighbors have been my closest friends my whole life, so they're going to be there for sure. I'd have to say everybody; there'll probably be a line waiting for me to give me hugs. But it's going to be a special moment, a special day to finally hear your name called and hear that you finally were wanted by some team that you dreamt your whole life to be on.
Those neighbors you speak of, are these guys you grew up with?
Their whole family is really close to ours, and my neighbor, she's like my second mom. She's been there for me when my parents were at work and stuff like that, but her two sons have been close to me and my best friends pretty much my whole life. Having them be able to support me, even though we went to different high schools, they were still there supporting me and I think that's why you're going to have those life-long friends.
I have a lot of supporting people, and I think that's really helping me through this time.
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