EVANSTON, Ill. -- Who will start at safety for Northwestern in 2014 is not a mystery. One spot will be filled by senior Ibraheim Campbell, a three-year starter who was named honorable mention all Big Ten at the end of last season. Junior Traveon Henry, one of only four true freshmen to play in 2012 and a starter last season, will take the other spot. Barring injury, they will start every game this season. This is not a certainty, of course. Campbell or Henry could be supplanted on the depth chart by another player. Just don’t expect it to happen.
It’s possible that Godwin Igwebuike, a heralded former three-star recruit – who drew offers from, among other programs, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Pittsburgh and Minnesota – will not start any games this season. He got some reps with the first unit in spring practices earlier this month, though, because Campbell is sitting out with an injury. Igwebuike is accepting of his place on the depth chart; his goal in the upcoming season is to prove his worth as a backup. In 2015, he should be in line to become a starter. “Obviously, Ibraheim got hurt,” Igwebuike told InsideNU in early March. “I’m trying to step in for that void and do what I can to help our team out and prove I can play with the big dogs – so that come the season, my team is going to have trust in me that I can get the job done when I’m out there.”
Before making his verbal commitment, Northwestern coaches told Igwebuike he would be allowed to choose his position. His two options were safety and running back. If he chose running back, Igwebuike would add more depth to one of Northwestern’s deepest positions (Justin Jackson, Auston Anderson, Stephen Buckley, Warren Long, Treyvon Green, Malin Jones, Venric Mark, etc.) If he chose safety, Igwebuike had a small chance of starting his freshman or redshirt freshman year, so entrenched as starters were Henry and Campbell. But as early as his sophomore year, it seemed, Igwebuike could be a starter. “So far I’ve loved safety,” said Igwebuike, who played both positions at Pickerington North (Ohio) High. “I love the transition I’ve made.”
Only Igwebuike can say whether he made the 'right' decision. Perhaps he would have been a better fit at running back. We may never know. But the opportunity to start three seasons – and not have to, say, compete for carries with two talented incoming recruits – makes Igwebuike’s choice look prudent in retrospect. “Defense has always been my true love,” he said. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Igwebuike gets this season. He has shone in spring workouts and coach Pat Fitzgerald said he has been impressed with Igwebuike’s progress.
Plus, have you seen his high school tape? If Igwebuike can pull off some of the plays he made in a Pickerington North uniform, there will be little need to worry about potential drop-off at safety once Campbell leaves in the offseason.