Jackson Wang
Author

Late Bloomer to Watch: Martin Ifedi

Apr 04, 2014 12:19 PM EST

Memphis football has been struggling for many years now. Last season, the Tigers went 3-9 overall with just one conference win. But one defensive player is trying to turn around the program — redshirt senior Martin Ifedi.

The 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end from Houston has been a driving force for the Memphis defensive line. For the last two seasons, he led the team in tackles for loss and sacks. In 2012, he had 11 tackles for negative yards, including 7.5 sacks. He helped the Tigers earn 29 sacks that year, more than doubling their 2011 total.

When the 2013 season arrived, Ifedi only got better with 52 tackles for loss and 14.5 of those coming off a sack.

Ifedi can thank current Memphis head coach Justin Fuente for his success. Fuente moved Ifedi from defensive tackle to defensive end during 2012 spring practice. Ifedi had recorded only one sack at defensive tackle the previous year.

That move by Fuente turned Ifedi into one of the best pass-rushers in college football. Ifedi was named to the first defensive AAC All-Conference team this past season. He also puts in the work outside of football, landing a spot on the AAC All-Academic team.

What makes Ifedi one of the best in college football is his ability to keep his outside hand free, which allows him to force the play back inside. That means quarterbacks stay in the pocket more, and halfbacks would have to run in between the tackles. Normally, that allows linebackers to come up and make the play.

Ifedi also has good strength and can drive offensive tackles back, putting pressure on the quarterback. And when Ifedi gets his hands on the ball carrier, the offensive player most likely is going down.

"I just know that every time I looked up, 97 was in the backfield," said Fuente to NFL.com, referring to a regular season game against Arkansas State in 2013. "He has really played well thus far [...] He's a smart, heady player and seems to get back there a lot."

With a basketball background, Ifedi brings another style of athleticism to the field. Plus with long arms and a 40-yard dash clocked in at 4.76 seconds, Ifedi shows that he can be among the elites.

And with spring practices under way, Ifedi is proving to be a leader for the Tiger defense. He set the tone in practice last week by sacking quarterback Paxton Lynch on the first series as the team’s first stringers faced off.

Memphis still has a long way to go before getting to the top of the AAC, but with Ifedi on their side, opposing teams are going to have second thoughts on running plays his way.