Odenigbo: 'The trash talk is real'

Odenigbo: 'The trash talk is real'

His first name is Otitodilinna, but he goes by Tito (Odenigbo). The defensive lineman returns to his home state today for a game against the Buckeyes. Odenigbo is an effective part of the rotation, with a sack among his 26 tackles. What he really wants is to ruin Ohio State's CFP plans. Illinois football beat writer Bob Asmussen sat down with the Centerville, Ohio, native earlier this week:

Obvious first question: Did you grow up a Buckeyes fan?

I did not. My dad (Thomas) went to the University of Illinois. He kind of forced the Illinois team on me growing up. When we went to the Final Four with Dee Brown and Deron Williams and all them, I was a big Illinois fan.

You grew up 80 miles from Columbus. You were surrounded by Ohio State rooters, right?

All my friends are Buckeyes fans. At the same time, I want to be different. I always wore my Orange and Blue on Fridays. Not very popular, especially after 2007 (when Illinois upset then-No. 1 Ohio State).

What does it mean to you to play there?

It's a little homecoming. But not too crazy.

What do you remember about the 2015 game against the Buckeyes?

I played a couple snaps in that game. I had a couple old teammates at Ohio State. It was cool to go against them a little bit. Other than that it felt like it was another Big Ten game.

How many fans will you have at the game?

From the family, probably 20 are going to come. It's a big game for me. Once you get on the field, it feels like a normal game.

Are most of the folks in your hometown Ohio State fans?

Everyone is an Ohio State fan.

Did you ever get in arguments with Ohio State fans?

When we beat them in 2007, I was watching the game at my friend Josh Krebs' house. He goes to Ohio State now. I always thought we could win, but when it was happening, I was like "This is kind of cool." It was the greatest year of trash talking in my life.

Who are nicer, Ohioans or Illinoisans?

That's a good question. I'll give it to Ohio fans. If you debate anything but football with them, they're the nicest people in the world. When it comes to their football, they're not the nicest people in the world.

Illinois used to have a bunch of guys from your state. Would you like to see more added?

It's cool wherever we get our players from. We did have a lot of Ohio players when I first came here. Ohio is the top football state in the entire country.

What do you like best about living in Champaign?

There are great people here and the university itself is just fantastic for the academics. It's an overall nice community.

What were your other college options?

Illinois, Illinois and Illinois. I was dead set about going to Illinois. Once I got the Illinois offer, I think I committed a week later. My parents made me wait a week. The main goal of me getting recruited was to go to the University of Illinois.

You have been through a lot of coaching changes. What has that been like?

It's like getting a new boss. It's never the funnest thing. I was recruited by Tim Beckman, then Bill Cubit came, then Coach (Lovie) Smith came. The transition has been better than what I thought it would be. The person who made it pretty easy was we had the consistency with my D-line coach Mike Phair.

What did you think when you found out Lovie Smith was going to be your coach?

I was pretty excited. Some of my family members are big Bears fans. We liked the fact that he went to the Super Bowl. Everyone felt very happy. I knew we could do something special with him.

What's the worst your name has ever been mispronounced?

My eighth-grade football game, one of my friend's dad was the announcer. He knew me pretty well, which was the crazy part. He said "Tito Obingabo."

Your brother Ifeadi played for Northwestern. What was it like to play against him?

It was stressful. We're a very prideful family. We always have a Thanksgiving meal in Chicago with our cousins. The trash talk is real. I've always played for the team. But that game right there, I had to win for my family reasons. Having a brother playing college football is very rare. Having a brother play for a rival Big Ten team is also very rare. I was proud of him and he was proud of me. He got a sack against us.

How often do you talk?

Every two days. We're very close. I can talk to him about football and life.

Is it just the two of you?

No, I have an older brother Somto who is 28. He is doing his master's at Ohio State. He'll be at the game.

Juice Williams is your Illinois hero. Why not Whitney Mercilus or another defensive star?

He's the first one who put me onto Illini football. I have a nostalgic feeling about him.

What do you want to do after football ends?

I have no idea. I want to try my luck with the NFL. If not that, I want to work with a global marketing company. Maybe overseas.

Can you imagine Lovie Smith playing in college?

The shape he's in, yes I can.

Have you seen film of Hardy Nickerson as a player and what did you think?

He was an animal. I'm pretty sure if Coach Nickerson was to put on his pads right now, he would be at least second-team All-Big Ten.

If you have two hours free, what are you doing?

Kicking back, watching TV, hanging around with friends and playing video games.

Tell me something people don't know about you.

Before every game, I only listen to two songs over and over: "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn and "Piano Man" by Bill Joel. They are great songs. I play them an hour and a half.

Tell me something people don't know about one of your teammates.

I have two. Mike Epstein can speak fluent Spanish. He's half Cuban. It was the most surprising thing. I took some Spanish in high school. The other one, Austin Roberts, our fullback, any time we don't have football, he will go to sleep at 9 or 10 and wake up at 5 p.m. He slept for 17 hours one day. He sleeps all day. Sunday morning, he wakes up at 3 p.m. on average.