With the departure of star runners Cameron Burrell and Elijah Hall, the Cougar track and field team was ripe for a newcomer to step up and take a spot.
Seven-time All-American sprinter, senior Obi Igbokwe, returned home to Houston for his final year of collegiate competition and instantly meshed with the team.
Igbokwe started his season the right way by running the then-fastest 200m dash time in the collegiate world Saturday at the Corky Classic in Lubbock.
It is now the second fastest of the season, but Igbokwe will have plenty more chances to take No. 1 as he plans to compete in the 200m dash, 400m dash and relays with the Cougars. He will try to improve a Cougar squad that finished No. 3 nationally last outdoor season.
The Cougar caught up with Igbokwe and he spoke about coming home, the opportunity to run for UH and the challenges of trying to be a new leader.
The Cougar: Coming home to spend your last year of college at the University of Houston, how does that feel?
Igbokwe: It’s good, man. I’m thankful for my three years at Arkansas. I learned a lot, but there are just certain things that this program has. I’m just blessed to have some great coaches over here. It’s just so great to be back home.
I never felt like Arkansas was home. This place has always been home.
TC: Balancing student life with the life of an athlete must be difficult. Can you talk about that?
Igbokwe: At first, it’s difficult because you have to set your own schedule up and hold yourself accountable for everything. I got really good at compartmentalizing and just being able to separate my personal life from school and track so whenever I was doing one thing, it would just be me in that moment.
In practice, no matter how hectic life was, I was just in that moment. You just have to clear your mind. When there are deadlines or a project due, people sometimes feel that anxiety, but when it’s practice time that’s all I’m worried about. I’m there 100 percent in the moment.
TC: Last year’s team had guys like Cameron Burrell and Elijah Hall who are now gone. With your history, has the rest of the team looked at you for some guidance and leadership?
Igbokwe: I think there’s a lot of guys on this team that have done a great job stepping up like Amere (Lattin) and Kahmari (Montgomery). Coming in as a new person, people don’t look to you at first as a leader, but I’ve done good things, I’ve had a good career and I think people recognize that and respect that.
TC: Do you view yourself as a leader?
Igbokwe: Definitely. I strive to be that. I try to make an impact, especially on the lower-classmen. They seem really receptive, which is great because I have a lot of advice and a lot of knowledge. I was once in their shoes. I just want to see them be great.
I want to make an impact on this team not just in points. I want to bring everybody up and lead by example.
TC: The team is supposed to debut ranked No. 6 nationally. What does that mean to you and to this program?
Igbokwe: It’s always a bitter taste not being ranked at the top. Six is definitely up there, but up there isn’t what we want, we want to be No. 1. If it’s not one, then we’ll show you. Predictions are cool, but predictions aren’t going to save anybody once we get on the line.
TC: How well do you think the team has prepared going into indoor season?
Igbokwe: I feel good about this one. Everyone has been putting in a lot of work. The team dynamic is great. We have so many people pushing and pushing each other. It’s like that saying, “steel sharpens steel.” We all feed off each other. Everyone is hungry and ready to compete.
TC: The new indoor banked track, can you tell me a bit about it?
Igbokwe: They’re finishing it up right now, so it’ll be good to go for the meet tomorrow. I haven’t had a chance to run on it, but man I love indoor. Some people just don’t like indoor, but I feel like indoor season should be an indicator of what happens in outdoor season. Indoor is just a lot of fun, like in the 400m you get to cut in and everyone is going so fast and then it all cuts into one lane.
It really separates the boys from the men, you really have to be a dog out there. It’s just the best feeling to me.
TC: What would you want to say to students who haven’t been to a meet before to encourage them to come out and support the team?
Igbokwe: Football, basketball and baseball are big sports, and I love going out and supporting those teams, but track meets are just as much fun. Watching a race, you get so into it. You get like an anxious, edge-of-your-seat feeling when you’re at a track meet. Especially during indoor season because the fans are so close, you can just feel everyone’s energy. You’re able to hear every single step and how much power goes into each one. You will be pleasantly surprised.