Jan. 24, 2014
RUSTON, La. - Be respectful. Be prideful. Honor thy family.
These are the principles IK Enemkpali has been taught and lives by every day as a defensive end for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
The teachers - his parents Chinedu and Justina, who were both born and raised in Nigeria, a country situated on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa.
"We are very prideful people," IK said of his Nigerian culture. "We are very humble people, hardworking and we are really big on family and just doing things the right way. The way my dad raised me was to always respect others and don't step on anybody's toes. That's how everything was handled in Nigeria."
His dad first came to the United States when he was really young to pursue his education and found himself at Lane College in Tennessee. His mom stayed behind. For the next few years, the two only communicated through mail before she came over from Nigeria as well.
The family then settled in Austin, Texas where they brought into the world Ikemefuna Chinedum Enemkpali, better known to everyone as just IK.
In Igbo, their native language, his first name means `let my struggles not be in vain.' The `k' is silent in his last name, which when using a pronunciation guide, is spoken as IN-em-PALL-ee.
IK became a two-year starter at Pflugerville High School in Pflugerville, a suburb of Austin. He was part of a defense, along with five-star recruit Alex Okafor, that wreaked havoc on quarterbacks and led the Panthers to the 2007 Class 5-A state finals.
College coaches came out in bundles to see Alex play which, if anything helped IK showcase his football abilities. One team that took notice was LA Tech. Then linebackers coach Stan Eggen recruited IK and eventually offered him a scholarship, the only one he would receive.
"Tech really believed in me," IK said after a rain-soaked practice. "Coach Eggen, he believed in me. I just wanted somebody to take a chance on me and Tech did that. I felt like the way they recruited me - it made me feel like the No. 1 recruit in the nation. I just wanted to do something special and my recruiting class was really special."
"IK and I, and really all of the seniors [on the d-line], we have a special bond," Eggen said. "I helped recruit IK and got to meet the parents and his family. It is a unique situation, but a tremendous home."
"IK is a great young man. He is very humble, respects the game and is a great team leader. He always wants to do what is best for the team. You have a lot of respect for players like that who want to continue to become an expert at their trade and are unselfish."
Coach Eggen and the staff originally projected IK as a linebacker. It did not take long though for them to see what a tremendous asset he could be as a defensive end and how the linebacker position hindered his amazing athleticism.
Coincidentally when IK switched playing positions to defensive end, Eggen switched to coaching the defensive end position, and the special relationship has continued to grow stronger ever since.
"He is something like a father-figure to me," IK said of Eggen's influence. "He's always teaching me something about life. He correlates football and life. In the past when I use to get into trouble and stuff, he would talk to me and teach me the way to do things and the way life goes."
The position switch has certainly paid off as the 6-foot-1-inch, 272-pounder has improved his sack and tackles for loss numbers every year he has been with the Bulldogs.
IK finished his senior campaign with the Bulldogs ranked first on the team in sacks with 5.5 on the season. He also has 17.5 career sacks, which currently ranks him third all-time at LA Tech behind only Walter Johnson and Matt Broha.
"Nobody really realizes it, but his teammates see how hard he has worked to put himself in this position," Eggen said. "He takes pride in the passion that he practices with. Everybody thinks they have passion to play the game on Saturday's, but it is really the guys who have a passion and take pride in that passion every day to come out. That is what is great to see about him."
Much of that passion and desire can be traced easily to his Nigerian roots, a country that he has been fortunate enough to visit three times.
"The first time I went was in 12th grade," IK said. "It was different. The experience was really humbling, seeing all of the things we take for granted here. It just put things into perspective, seeing how much I can help my cousins with the resources I have in the States. I can actually make a difference. I like knowing where my roots are and where it all started."
Any time IK can get on Facebook and shoot his grandpa and many cousins, uncles and aunts in Nigeria a message, he does because he has tremendous pride in his name, his family's name and his heritage. So much so that if you are ever unsure how to spell or pronounce his name, it is best not to try to in front of IK.
"I'm very picky about the way my name is carried around," IK said emphatically. "I don't like people misspelling it. I'll correct you in a second."