FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) -James Ihedigbo lives for the moment of impact on the football field.
For him, nothing beats the loud pop of pads colliding and the thud of bodies hitting the turf after a big tackle.
``Football's all about being fast and physical, contact, and that's part of the game I love the most,'' the New York Jets safety said Friday. ``To be able to play violently, so to speak, and be a hands-on and aggressive guy. I mean, that's the name of the game. That's what football's all about to me.''
That approach earned Ihedigbo (ee-HEAD-dee-BO) a spot on the Jets' active roster this week after waiting nearly 1 1/2 years for a chance. With starting safety Eric Smith out for New York's game at Buffalo on Sunday with a head injury, Ihedigbo could make his NFL debut in the secondary and on special teams.
``Oh, I'm excited,'' he said with a big smile. ``You have no idea how excited I am to have this opportunity to show the world basically what I can do as a football player.''
cial routine before each game he plays in. He calls her and asks her to pray for him and his protection, and they spend a few minutes praying with each other. If Ihedigbo is active Sunday, it'll be the first time he makes that call before a regular-season NFL game.
``Not in a lifetime did I imagine this for him,'' Dr. Rose Ihedigbo said of the youngest of her five children.
``He's a guy who I think everybody here is excited for his opportunity because he has worked really hard at it,'' defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said.
Ihedigbo was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent in May 2007 after a terrific career at the University of Massachusetts. The native of Amherst, Mass., stuck with the team through training camp until he injured a hand and landed on injured reserve.
He spent all last season recovering and taking advantage of the classroom work, learning anything he could use once he got back on the field.
``During the time where he was injured, he was very much part of the team,'' coach Eric Mangini said. ``He was asked questions, he was studying each day, not just during the meetings, but post-practice. That type of diligent work allowed him to put himself in the position he's in right now.''
ractice squad the next day.
``Some guys, when they get on the practice squad, they fade into the background,'' Mangini said. ``Other guys keep showing up each day and they don't give you a chance to forget them. That's what James did.''
Ihedigbo quickly established a reputation for being a hard-hitting playmaker in college after walking on to the team at UMass. He earned a starting spot as a sophomore and helped lead the Minutemen to a runner-up finish in the I-AA championship game against Appalachian State in 2006. Not bad for a guy whose father wanted him to be a soccer player.
``I told him I wanted to play football and he got real upset with me,'' Ihedigbo said. ``He came to one of my games in high school and he was blown away.''
Ihedigbo's parents came to the United States from Nigeria more than 30 years ago, earned doctorates from UMass and founded the Nigerian Agricultural Technical Community College in their home country.
His father, Apollos, died suddenly during a trip to Nigeria during James' senior year of high school, but Ihedigbo intends to continue the work he started. He's starting an organization to fund schools in Africa and is planning a trip to Nigeria in February.
``That's something that's dear to me and something that I'm fully hands-on a part of,'' he said.
be more aggressive.
``James came to me and said, 'Mom, the coach said to hit someone because that's the game,''' said Rose Ihedigbo, coincidentally a regional director for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. ``I told him, 'Well, then you have to do what the coach tells you.'''
Ihedigbo hasn't stopped hitting since.
``He's ferocious,'' said Jets tight end Brad Listorti, a former UMass teammate. ``He's almost like a throwback, and there aren't many guys left like that in the NFL.''
Jets linebacker Marques Murrell played on Appalachian State's championship team, and remembers the warning his coaches gave the offense before that title game.
``We all knew he was a come-down-the-hill-I'm-gonna-blast-you safety,'' Murrell said. ``That was the main thing our coaches stressed: 'Watch out going across the middle. Catch the ball, but always be aware he's back there. Be aware of 'Dig.'''

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