Towson's Ibia finally tapping into his potential

After slow start to career, senior defensive tackle primed to be defensive centerpiece for Tigers

August 31, 2010|By Rich Scherr, Special to The Baltimore Sun

The son of two physicians, defensive tackle Yaky Ibia has always been considered one of the most academically gifted players on the Towson University football team.

Last summer, Tigers coach Rob Ambrose took drastic measures to also unlock the beast within.

"Yaky used to be a big, strong, fat, lazy kid who did OK because you couldn't move him," Ambrose said. "But I don't think I've ever gotten in a football player's [business] like I got into his."

Frustrated by Ibia's lack of stamina, and perceived lack of mental toughness, Ambrose tore into the Nigerian native, berating him in front of teammates at practice.

"It was embarrassing to be called out like that in front of your whole team," Ibia recalled. "But at the same time, it was needed."

Now, entering his senior season, Ibia is the centerpiece of a defensive line that will play a key role in turning around the Tigers' fortunes after last year's 2-9 campaign, starting with Thursday night's season opener at Indiana.

A year ago, Ibia was one of 55 players named to the Football Championship Subdivision academic all-star team, finishing with 52 tackles, including a team-leading 11.5 for losses, 2.5 sacks and a 3.51 grade-point average in actuarial science.

Now, he's a preseason pick for All-Colonial Athletic Association and even projected by some as an NFL draft pick. Consensus Draft Services pegs him as a seventh-round pick and the 17th best defensive tackle overall, ahead of players from programs such as Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State.

"I believe he has a lot of potential," Ambrose said. "He's just now starting to scratch the surface of it."

That's mainly because Ibia grew up playing soccer in his home of Calabar, Nigeria, and didn't begin to play organized football in earnest until his freshman year at South Lakes High in Reston, Va.

It's also because, he admits, he was somewhat out of shape, ballooning to as much as 310 pounds as a sophomore. Ambrose, who took over the program before last season, quickly grew frustrated with Ibia's inability to go all-out on consecutive plays.

"That's one thing Ambrose stresses for our team is consistency," said Ibia, who grew up idolizing Reggie White. "If you can do it on first down but you can't do it on second down, it doesn't really matter. The time that you take that play off is when the running back is going to go in your hole or the quarterback is going to run."

With a newfound focus on conditioning, the 6-foot-2 Ibia is now down to a svelte 290 pounds. The third-year starter says his energy level is as high as it has ever been.

"I could not be more proud of him, just to how he's responded," Ambrose said. "He's found out there is a lot more to him than even he knew."

Towson Tigers

COACH: Rob Ambrose (second season, at right)

CONFERENCE: Colonial Athletic Association

LAST YEAR: 2-9

RADIO: Fox Sports (1370 AM)

STADIUM: Johnny Unitas Stadium

TICKETS: $12 for adults, $8 for children, students and senior citizens in advance; $15 for adults, $12 for children, students and seniors at the gate

PARKING: $10 near stadium; $5 on campus

OFFENSE: Multiple

DEFENSE: 4-3

OUTLOOK: Picked to finish last in the 10-team CAA, Towson is out to prove it can compete in one of the nation's toughest FCS conferences. The task will be difficult, but not impossible. The Tigers were depleted by injuries a year ago, when they finished with six straight losses. Now, they boast a squad with more experience and depth, aided by the addition of 14 redshirt freshmen. The quarterback position remains unsettled. Chris Hart, who last year passed for 1,060 yards and 22 touchdowns at Georgia Military College, will begin the season as starter, with sophomore Brian Potts serving as backup. Last year's starter, Peter Athens, has been slowed by a season-ending knee injury that kept him out through all of spring practice, and Citadel transfer Bart Blanchard has yet to receive NCAA clearance. Sophomores Tremayne Dameron and Dominique Booker, the team's top rushers last season, both return, as does top receiver Hakeem Moore. Tackle Yaky Ibia, the Tigers' lone preseason All-CAA selection, anchors a defense that returns eight starters. The kicking game should be improved as well with Maryland transfer Nick Wallace. The schedule, however, will be brutal, with games against Indiana and defending FCS national champion Villanova in the first three weeks, as well as dates with four other members of the preseason FCS Top 25.

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