Sept. 19, 2009
The 12th Man
Bryan Boettcher, Northwest Director of Media Relations and Sports Information
Ike Urum-Eke has never been in the starting lineup, yet he's played in all but two games for the Bearcats since the start of the 2006 season. Of his teammates, only Myles Burnsides and Sean Paddock have more tackles than his 145 and only Paddock has more sacks than his 13.
On the roster, Urum-Eke is listed as a safety. On the depth chart, he's an "extra backer". Fans have seen him in almost every defensive position - even special teams.
What most fans don't know about Urum-Eke is his background. He grew up the oldest of six kids and the son of an English teacher in Nigeria. He boarded a plane for New York with his father, Oko, when he was 12. After visiting his relatives for a month, he moved in with his uncle, Joseph, in Lee's Summit, Mo, while his dad returned to Nigeria. He hasn't seen his mom, his four sisters or his brother since.
"To this day, I'm not sure why my parents sent me here or why I was the only one," said Urum-Eke. "I think they wanted to give me a better life. Over there, when you think about the United States you think nothing but good things."
Urum-Eke played soccer as a kid and was a talented cross country runner until he picked up wrestling in high school. He was 17 when he first touched a football.
"Most of my friends were playing football and I didn't want to go home after school, so I went out my sophomore year," said Urum-Eke. "That's how it all started."
Urum-Eke played cornerback and was a kick returner at Lee's Summit. His preference, though, was running back. He got his chance in the first game of his senior season and carried twice for 76 yards before hurting his ankle. He'd miss the next five games.
Most colleges recruited Urum-Eke for track and field. Instead he took high school teammate and former Bearcat Dustin Conard's advice and walked on the football team at Northwest. He was named the Bearcats' Cory Stanton Walk-On of the Year winner following the 2006 season.
Football isn't the only sport Urum-Eke has competed in at Northwest. While redshirting the 2005 season, former Northwest track and field coach Rich Alsup caught Urum-Eke in the weight room.
"Coach Al came over and said hey, I heard you could jump a little," said Urum-Eke. "He said if I was interested, he had a little money left over. I was broke so I said sure."
During the 2006 indoor season, Urum-Eke became the second Northwest student-athlete to capture the MIAA triple jump crown. He placed second during the outdoor season with a career-best leap of 48-feet-9-inches. He'd earn four All-MIAA honors in the triple jump in three seasons on the team.
It wasn't by chance that Coach Alsup found Urum-Eke in the weight room. Take a close look at his physique. Urum-Eke stands 5-11 and is 205 pounds of pure muscle. He wears a medium size practice jersey that barely covers his shoulder pads and exposes a set of washboard abs.
"I'd go no shirt if I could everywhere I go," said Urum-Eke. "I still take gruff from teammates for my practice jersey, but not as much anymore. They know it's just me."
Urum-Eke grew up with a set of weights in his garage. From seventh grade through his sophomore year of high school, his daily routine included 500 pushups and 1,000 crunches.
"I've been hooked since I learned how to do a pushup in elementary school," said Urum-Eke. "We had a good strength program at Lee's Summit and it wasn't until then that I learned how to build muscle properly."
Urum-Eke watches what he eats and admits to being a label reader. Right now he's trying to maintain weight so his current diet is high-protein and high-carb.
A final thing you'll notice upon close observation is a set of tattoos in a downward arch across his chest. The set is composed of five stars - one for each sibling: sisters Chidinma, 22, Ugwumsinachi, 19, Ivory, 18 and Chioma, 17, and brother Ifeanyi, 21. He had them done this past summer.
Urum-Eke's first name is Ikechukwu (ee-KAY-chew-koo), but he goes by Ike. He's stayed in touch with his family back in Nigeria through pictures, phone calls, text messaging and other social networks.
"I don't think they know anything about football," said Urum-Eke. "They'd hear about tackles and think soccer."
Urum-Eke is a marketing management major and will graduate in December. If all goes well, he plans to return to his parents, his sisters and his brother for a month or so. It will be a reunion nearly 13 years in the making.
For more information, please contact:
Media Relations Department, Northwest Athletics
firstname.lastname@example.org | 660.562.1118 | Fax: 660.562.1582
Lamkin Activity Center | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468