Senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia has persevered to represent Iowa defense
CHICAGO — No one was more surprised than Michael Ojemudia that he was chosen as the lone representative of Iowa’s defense during the Big Ten Conference's football media days.
The senior cornerback went through some media training back on campus. The gist was: “Don’t say anything stupid.”
That’s not as simple as it sounds.
“If anybody would say something stupid, it would probably be me,” Ojemudia confided early in his one-hour session with reporters Friday.
“It’s an honor to be here and … I just hope I say the right things today so (the Hawkeye coaches) have trust with me during camp, during the season.”
How did Ojemudia do?
Consider these three sound bites.
- On being the most experienced defensive back on the depth chart: “Coach (Phil) Parker, he wants me to be a leader this year. He said I should be a coach on the field. And that he shouldn’t even have to coach me. I should be doing everything right so I can just focus on my craft and coaching other players. We can’t have somebody not ready in the game. If I’m on my game, then I can help others out.”
- On his favorite plays from his junior season: “Good players usually don‘t always just look at the good plays. The bad plays are what you rewind again and again and like, ‘Dang, is that really me?’ Or, ‘How could I do that?’ So that’s the plays I want to eliminate.”
- On his mindset heading into his final Hawkeye season: “When you’re a senior, you kind of don’t look at yourself mostly. You look at more of the team aspect. Because you kind of take ownership of the team and you take ownership of the team goals. You’re really invested, because it’s your last shot. As a senior, you kind of feel the weight of the team more than you do when you’re younger.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he chose Ojemudia as one of his three player representatives on the Chicago trip — quarterback Nate Stanley and running back Toren Young were the others — because of the way he’s persevered through his first four years at Iowa.
Ojemudia is a Michigan native with an affinity for that state’s most famous export: automobiles. He came to Iowa intent on majoring in mechanical engineering. He loves to build and optimize cars.
Ferentz said he’s fully supportive of players who want to take on challenging coursework. But he also warns them at the outset: ”There’s going to be a price to pay socially. You may not be able to go to a movie with your buddies because you’re going to have a little different workload than they are.”
Sure enough, Ojemudia struggled early on. He wasn’t getting enough sleep, which was reflected on the practice field.
“He was getting beat up in the classroom pretty well,” Ferentz recalled, wondering if Ojemudia would really stick with his engineering plans.
Ojemudia did. He’ll graduate with that degree in May. It wasn’t easy. But he said he’s glad he made the sacrifices.
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On the field, things have been bumpy for Ojemudia as well. He started three games as a sophomore, but also lost that role. Last year, he started seven games and had to battle a hamstring injury to get back in the lineup. He has 73 career tackles and three interceptions. But a cornerback’s failures are very visible, and he’s had those as well.
Ojemudia said he’s working at cornerback and at the newly created “cash” position this summer. Redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson is the other player getting a long look to man the hybrid linebacker spot where Amani Hooker excelled a year ago.
“You might see us anywhere that first game,” Ojemudia said. “Just to see the best fit for our defense for the first game. That’s basically what we do. We usually just field the five best players we can.”
Ojemudia figures to be one of them. But he’s also aware of the need to mentor sophomore understudies Julius Brents and Riley Moss. Plus Johnson.
Ojemudia was living with safety Jake Gervase last season. Gervase graduated. Ojemudia moved across the street, with junior defensive backs Matt Hankins and Geno Stone. They all think alike, Ojemudia said, and enjoy studying opposing offenses.
“We have the same goal: to be a really good team,” Ojemudia said.
“This offseason, I’ve been just really focused on doing my business. Showing up. Doing the little things right. This is really exciting for me just to put everything in place so I can have the best season I can. Players emerging onto the stage usually happens in the offseason.”
The first stage for Ojemudia was Big Ten media days. He handled himself well there. Now, it’s on to the stage that really matters.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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