Cornerbacks debatably have the hardest job in football. Isolated by design by offenses against taller and bigger receivers the defensive back is left to his own athleticism and instincts. Defense, by nature, is reactive, no matter how many times we hear a coach claim that the defense is going to be "taking it to" offenses.
Narrow down the defensive philosophy even further to defensive backs and you realize just how tough it is to play the position. Sometimes on an island in man-to-man coverage or sometimes guarding an entire half of the field, the defensive back often has to make the best of a bad situation.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu realizes that with the greatest responsibility comes the greatest potential. Ekpre-Olomu can single-handedly cause turnovers and force punts on pass defense. By locking down players and halves he can eliminate entire parts of the field from offenses.
Not many people are able to fully use the agency allotted to them in their role. For example, Muhammad Ali was a boxer, an entertainer, and a poet. Rarely is the mere performance or job someone is asked to do easy enough to surpass into the realm of showmanship.
I'll borrow the example that I wrote last year about Ifo Ekpre-Olomu when comparing him to Muhammad Ali. Ali was an underdog in his fight against George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman was the top dog in the heavyweight division, thought to be too big and hit too hard for an older Muhammad Ali. Ali was a 7-1 underdog! The documentary When We Were Kings shows clips of Muhammad Ali running through the villages of Zaire leading whole villages in the chant "Ali, Bomaye!" translating to "Ali, kill him!"
The defensive back is counted out often because the merits of his situation. He isn't tall enough. He isn't big enough. He has to react to a lightning fast receiver whose moves have been practiced hundreds if not thousands of times to be perfectly coordinated with the throw of the quarterback. But Ekpre-Olomu's talents and mindset allow him to surpass the usual expectations of the defensive back and maximize the agency he has in the situation.
The mental side of sports, the discipline that goes into training to be ready and the smarts to capitalize on scenarios, is what allows people like Muhammad Ali to win as a huge underdog and players like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to be the best and flip the power in the receiver-cornerback dynamic.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu doesn't look to respond passively to what is in front of him. He attacks ball carriers with a ferocity seemingly reserved for linebackers with bad temperaments. He never allows the receiver to run freely off the line. The receiver is on Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's island, not the other way around. With ruthlessness in the air going after the ball receivers often are on the defensive to make sure Ekpre-Olomu doesn't make an interception.
Rather than be restrained by the situations he finds himself in, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu changes the orientation of the situation. Ifo is the aggressor.
We'll see this year whether teams will even go after Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Some of the best defensive backs have the fewest statistics because offenses don't want to challenge them and face the possible consequences.
Going into the 2014 season Ifo Ekpre-Olomu passed up the opportunity to play in the NFL and deferred it for another year in order to play for Oregon. That's a risk that has turned on more than one college player. But the confidence that led him to make the choice that staying for another year was the best route is the confidence that will take his game to new heights this year.
At times opposing teams will decide to challenge Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. In those times Ifo is going to get the better of those situations. Can you picture 50,000 people chanting "Ifo! Bomaye! Ifo! Bomaye!"