It’s no secret that the Oregon Ducks have one of the scariest offenses in the country. But more often than not, it’s a strong defense that will bring a team a championship. In recent years, Oregon’s defense has become a force to be reckoned with, and a promising defensive back has helped the Ducks defense become nearly as lethal as their offense. At No. 13 on ATQ’s list of the 20 best Oregon football players in the last 20 years is Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Ekpre-Olomu arrived on campus in 2011, making an immediate impact. In his freshman year, Ekpre-Olomu appeared in all 14 games and recorded 34 tackles, including six against Washington State. His true breakout year was as a sophomore in 2012.
That year, Ekpre-Olomu started all 13 games and finished tied for second in the nation in forced fumbles (6) and seventh in passes defended (20). Not surprisingly, he led the Pac-12 in both of those categories. His breakout came came against Arizona where he had two interceptions, including one he returned 54 yards for a touchdown. I was on the sidelines right as that pick-six happened and clearly remember Ekpre-Olomu blazing right past me as the students went absolutely nuts. That game was where Oregon’s defense clearly marked their arrival. Heading into the game, Arizona had one of the most lethal offenses in the entire nation. Many thought it would be a shootout, with the winner being whoever had the ball last. Au contraire. Oregon didn’t just contain the Wildcats; they shut them down in a 49-0 blowout victory at Autzen Stadium. To this day, I’ve never seen a more dominating performance from the Ducks in a single game. For his performance in 2012, Ekpre-Olomu was named 3rd-Team All-American and 1st-Team All Pac-12.
Ekpre-Olomu continued to build off his successful sophomore year into 2013. Once again, he started all 13 games for the Ducks, extending his consecutive starts mark to 27 games. He finished second on the team with 84 tackles, twice recording over 10 tackles in a single game against Stanford (12) and Oregon State (12). All three of Ekpre-Olomu’s interceptions on the year occurred in the end zone, killing the opponent’s scoring drives.
Ekpre-Olomu continued to rake in the awards. In 2013, he was named 1st-Team All-America by ESPN.com, Pac-12 All-Conference 1st Team (Pac-12 Coaches, Athlon’s, ESPN.com, Sporting News) and 2nd-Team All-America (Athlons, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Walter Camp).
This year already, Ekpre-Olomu has been named to watch lists for the Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s best defensive back), the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy, both for the national defensive player of the year. Ekpre-Olomu was already projected as a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft, but decided to return to Oregon for his senior year despite the retirement of former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. If he continues to build on his success he’s seen on the field at Oregon, Ekpre-Olomu could be one of the most sought-out defensive draft prospects in the 2015 NFL draft. But for one more year, he’s ours and you can’t have him.