By Steven Shaff, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The chants of "Ify" came down from the student section packed with members of the Northern Arizona football team last Thursday. Everyone loves the last player on the bench and they wanted to see the gridiron player turned hoops backup get on the court.
"It is such a great feeling knowing so many people are behind you in what you are doing," said Umodu, who had four catches in six games in his freshman season. "It was really cool to know I had some support for doing what I doing even though I did not get to play."
While he did not get in the game against Eastern Washington, Ify Umodu played a part in helping his team win the game for a Division I college basketball team.
"He is trying to help guys at practice and knows it will help us come game time," said Head Coach Mike Adras, who accepted the walkon to the team.
Umodu, a freshman from Covina, Calif., is a scholarship football player. He decided to join the basketball team after the football season, fulfilling a dream to play both sports in college like he had his whole life.
"It never has crossed my mind not to," said Umodu of playing both sports. "It has been a lot of fun, getting used to the new people. It is a totally different environment, especially during practices. It is a faster pace with a lot more in your face (action). There is more for you to do individually. In basketball you are in the whole practice."
Umodu is accomplishing a rare feet at the Division I level, playing both football and basketball. At NAU, men's basketball player Nick Larson moonlighted on the football team for one season last year and is currently pursuing a professional career in the sport. And there have been several football players who have ran track but the football player turned hoops star is rare on this campus. Kory Mahr is the last student-athlete to play both in the same season.
"In high school I played both sports and I could always see how it was beneficial," said Umodu. "When I am getting off the line and making my cuts in football, it felt like a basketball move. When I am on the basketball court taking it to the hole, I feel very comfortable having the contact because I am used to it in football. It helps me out with both sports and growing as an athlete."
He was a three-year letter winner and starter in hoops at South Hills High School, earning All-CIF and all-league first team honors in leading his team to the league championship all four years. But he also was the best player on the basketball team, scoring career-highs of 29 points and 27 rebounds against Los Altos High School during his junior season, two short of the local rebounding mark. He was also recruited in the sport by Penn and attended an elite basketball camp at UCLA.
After signing to play football at NAU, Umodu contacted the coaches and expressed interest in playing both sports at the Mountain campus. He joined the team in early December and has seen action in four games off the bench. Adras has been impressed.
"He has great energy and effort at practice and forces the starters to have to play harder and not go through the motions," said Adras. "He wants to show that he can play college basketball and that is his motivation to go hard. He has a natural ability to make plays. It was evident in the bucket he scored, making a nice move. We are happy to have him."
Umodo, whose given name is Emughedi but adopted "Ify" when his kindergarten teacher could not pronounce his name, scored his first point at the free throw line against Montana State and tallied his first basket two nights later against Montana in his only attempt this season in nine minutes of action.
"It felt like it had been a long time," said Umodu of his first basket. "It was something I always wanted to do as a kid. People never believed me. I told people I would play both. Being able to score cemented what I wanted to do. Hopefully there are a lot more points to come."
Umodu will travel this weekend with the team to California for the Sears BracketBusters game on Saturday against Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. It is a special trip for two reasons. It will mark his first road trip with his new team (he is replacing injured DeAngelo Jones on the trip) and they are playing at a site that allows for his mom and family to be able to attend the game.
"My mom is going to be there and I am looking forward to it," said Umodu, who grew up in a family with six kids with a dedicated single mom. He has had two older brothers play college football at UCLA and the Air Force Academy and a sister who ran track at UC Riverside.
"That has been a big impact and seeing how they were able to make it out of my household," said Umodu of his siblings' influence. "It made me feel like almost I had to. It was put on me to do it and was willing to do anything I could to make it. Seeing what they have accomplished and how people encouraged them to make it there. It makes we want to do the same. They are really excited for me to be playing both sports."
Whether he gets in the game or not, his family will be there Saturday cheering him on just like his teammates did last week. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. The game can be heard on the Lumberjack radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker and on the internet at www.bigtalkerradio.com.
Northern Arizona is in the field for the fifth time in school history and first since the 2007-08 season. NAU defeated Wichita State (2008), San Jose State (2007) and fell to Tulsa (2005) and Western Kentucky (2006) in its previous four games in the event. The Big Sky Conference is participating in the BracketBusters Pool for the seventh straight season. For the first time, all nine Big Sky games were part of the BracketBusters Pool, which included 114 teams from 14 conferences and one independent.
Wish They All Could Be California...
Sophomore Gabe Rogers has had three of his best games of the season in the state of California. He scored his career-high 31 against Pepperdine, added 26 at CS-Bakersfield and led the Lumberjacks with 20 at USC. He has made 27 three-pointers during the three California games, shooting 58.6 percent (27-for-46) from beyond the arc and averaging 25.6 ppg. The Lumberjacks have their next two games in the state.
Cal Poly Series...
NAU owns a 7-4 all-time mark against the Mustangs. The two schools last met in 2007-08 in Flagstaff, a game won by the Lumberjacks by the score of 85-51. Cameron Jones had four points in the contest and Shane JOhannsen added two.
Something Has Got to Give...
Northern Arizona enters the game as the top-shooting three-point field goal team in the nation at 43.9 percent entering the week. The Mustang defense has allowed just 26.8 percent for the season. Cal Poly is ranked ahead of Arizona, the No. 2 team at 27.5. The Lumberjacks shot 50 percent (3-for-6) against the Wildcats in December.