CFLs' Igwebuike kicks into second gear

November 02, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

People spot him in a restaurant and make the immediate connection. They know who, they just don't know how.

" 'Aren't you the kicker for the CFL team?' " they ask. " 'Donald Ig-way-beeee something or other . . . .' "

" 'Donald,' " he tells them. " 'Call me Donald.' "

For the record, it's Igwebuike. Pronounced Ig-way-BEE-kay. Or Iggy for short.

He's the guy who got cut seven weeks ago, then came back two weeks later to reclaim his job and his popularity.

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the late 1980s, Donald Igwebuike was a fan favorite. With Baltimore, he's a cult hero.

Even he has no explanation.

"I've never seen anything like what is happening here," he said yesterday.

"I have no words to describe how I feel with what is going on here. [But] it really helps me play. I really appreciate the fans."

In the chill of November, Igwebuike is as hot as the Fourth of July.

He kicked five field goals in Saturday's 57-10 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, including two 50-yarders.

Since returning to the team Oct. 1 from his two-week exile in purgatory, Igwebuike has hit 16 of 17 field-goal tries, a nifty 94 percent success rate.

In one breath, the 33-year-old Nigeria native says there is no correlation between his release Sept. 13 and his run of near-perfection since his reinstatement.

In the next breath, he says the memory of his release is ever present.

"I will always remember that," he said. "If it helps me play better, that's good. But it will be there always."

Igwebuike was cut after he missed a chip-shot 21-yard field goal that ultimately cost the CFLs in a 30-29 loss to the Sacramento Gold Miners in week 10. The miss was the final straw for coach Don Matthews, who grew dissatisfied with Igwebuike's kickoffs and the lack of practice time put in to improve them.

That's all changed now, even if the kickoffs are not quite where Matthews wants them.

"As you get older, you have to work at your skills to keep proficient," Matthews said. "Veterans realize their physical skills diminish and they have to work at them.

"He has done that now. I think it's shown up in his proficiency. He's working on his kickoffs to try to improve, and the [opponents'] starting distances are way better now."

His field-goal percentage wasn't bad before (75 percent), but Igwebuike has improved on one weakness.

"One of his 50-yarders was from the right hash [Saturday]," Matthews said. "That's been his nemesis, where his problems have been. He's kicking very pure right now. I think the 50-yarders could have been 58-yarders."

Punter Josh Miller appreciates Igwebuike's approach to the game.

"He breaks kicking down to its simplest form," Miller said. "Kick the ball through the posts. He doesn't bring any baggage with him when he kicks. He's a pro. I've learned a lot from him."

Indeed, his teammates rejoiced when Igwebuike came back to the team. John Congemi, his holder, still marvels at Igwebuike's return during a 40-13 win over Ottawa. In a torrential downpour and on terrible footing, Igwebuike drilled four field goals, the first from 49 yards.

"You couldn't stand up out there, let alone kick the ball," Congemi said. "I'm happy he came back. It gave him a second life. He's taken the opportunity and gone in the right direction with it.

"I think he is kicking a little better, but not drastically. Everybody gets in a zone. Call it what you like, he's hot."

NOTES: Mike Pringle, new holder of the CFL single-season rushing record at 1,901 yards, missed practice yesterday with a strained groin muscle. He's listed as "day-to-day" for Saturday night's game at Sacramento against the Gold Miners. Matthews said he will use Pringle based on "considerations for this game and future [playoff] games." Said Pringle: "I'm going to play.". . . . The CFLs list wide-out Robert Clark (hamstring) as doubtful this week. If he is unable to play, he'll be replaced on the active roster by Mike Alexander. One other roster change will have defensive back Stan Petry going on for rush end Grant Carter. . . . The Gold Miners filed a protest with the league yesterday over an apparent touchdown pass on the final play of Saturday's 22-16 loss at Edmonton. Quarterback Kerwin Bell hit Marcus Dowdell with a low pass just across the goal line. Dowdell bobbled the ball and regained possession as he hit the ground, but umpire Bill Wright ruled it incomplete. Coach Kay Stephenson asked the league to show "intestinal fortitude" and reverse the outcome of the game. . . . The Coaches for Learning Foundation, sponsored by the CFLs and the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys, kicks off its pilot program at Garrison Middle School this morning from 8:30 to 9:30 with an appearance by quarterback Tracy Ham and team owner Jim Speros.

THEN AND NOW

How CFLs kicker Donald Igwebuike fared before his release and since he returned:

Games .. .. FG-FGA .. .. Long

1-10 ... .. 27-36 ... .. . 49

13-17 .. .. 16-17 .. . 50 (2)

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