Rose Bowl: Chino Hills’ Ekpre-Olomu shines as freshman for Oregon

Above: Chino Hills alum Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will play in Monday’s 98th Rose Bowl Game. (Photo provided by Eric Evans/Oregon Sports Information)

University of Oregon football coach Chip Kelly has one rule: The best players, regardless of class, play. He’s lived up to that statement, showing no qualms to play talented, but inexperienced freshman, including two years ago when running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner found their way into the lineup, and this year is no different. One of those is former Chino Hills star Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who has made a sudden impact for the Ducks, being part of defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti’s seven defensive-back rotation.
Below is today’s story of Ekpre-Olomu.

Also, click here to read about the 2012 Rose Bowl Hall of Fame class, which is former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne, announcer Dick Enberg and former Washington star George Fleming.

Here is today’s notebook, leading with Kelly addressing the Ducks’ struggles in BCS games and encounters when their opponents have had more than a week to prepare.

By Steve Ramirez
So much for the adage that freshmen are supposed to be seen, but not heard.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is one of the exceptions.
The former Chino Hills High School star, despite his youthful status, not only has found his way on the field for the Oregon football team but he’s made an impact in the Ducks’ defensive back rotation.
He will put his talents on display when Oregon faces Wisconsin on Monday in the 98th Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena.
“For myself, I always have high expectations,” said Ekpre-Olomu, who has played in all 13 games and is the No. 2 cornerback behind starters Anthony Gildon and Terrance Mitchell. “Of course, I wanted to play this year. I got to do that. Now I’m just working my way up the depth chart trying to get more and more playing time.”

Ekpre-Olomu brought a lot of ability to Eugene. He was one of the better defensive backs in the CIF-Southern Section last season, when he earned all-state and All-Inland Division honors. He also was named Sierra League MVP.
But it takes more than talent to find a spot in Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti’s system. And Ekpre-Olomu, who holds the Chino Hills record for most interceptions in a season with eight, showed his worth early.
“It was just hard work,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “You have to do more work than the other guys. That might be just staying after practice, getting in more work, doing more drills by yourself. You just do whatever it takes.
“The hardest part was just learning the playbook. It’s far more advanced than high school. Once you get that down, then you get to start playing and doing well, like you know you can.”
He got his shot in the opener, a 41-27 loss to No. 1 Louisiana State.
“I’m not going to lie, the first play you’re nervous,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “But after that, it just goes back to how you used to feel in high school.
“You’re just excited that you’re on the field, especially with that big crowd watching you. It makes you feel a lot better.”
Another factor for Ekpre-Olomu is Aliotti’s defensive philosophy, which is to rotate about 22-25 players per game. It’s mainly because of the fast-paced play of Oregon’s offense, which has averaged more than 40 points a game the past three seasons. The Ducks’ quick-strike ability means more plays on the field for the defense, which forces Aliotti to substitute more freely.
“You just have to make sure you’re conditioned well,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “We work on our conditioning all the time in practice because we are probably on the field more than most teams, some 30 to 40 plays (more).
“We’ve been doing (it) the whole season, and we have the defensive backs to do that. When one person comes out, we have enough depth where we’re not going to miss a beat.”
It’s also a young group, with Gildon and rover Eddie Pleasant the only seniors. Ekpre-Olomu is a true freshman, with fellow corners Mitchell and Troy Hill being redshirt freshmen. The unit also features two sophomores.
“They’re very young,” the veteran Pleasant said. “They’re freshmen. That’s not the weakness of our defense. But that’s the most inexperienced part of our defense.
“I think they do a great job. We wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in today if it weren’t for (them).”
Monday might be the group’s biggest challenge.
Wisconsin features a run-first offense featuring Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball (1,759 yards, 32 touchdowns rushing). But the Badgers have the ability to get the ball downfield with receivers Nick Toon and Jar Abbrederis, who have combined for 106 receptions, 1,636 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“They like to run the ball a lot and like to isolate and get as many one-on-one plays with their receivers,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “We, as defensive backs, just have to make sure we’re at the top of our game.
“Both receivers have over 50 catches, so you can’t really say they have one go-to guy. Whichever guy is on your side (of the field), you just have to (lock) them up.”
This also will be a home game for Ekpre-Olomu. It being the Rose Bowl makes it the best of both worlds for the freshman.
“It makes it a lot better being home,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “Not only can my family see me, but also everyone I know who lives around here can see me play in the Rose Bowl, too. I’m blessed to have that.”

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  • anonymous


  • Steely Don

    I’d like to believe, for the sake of humor, that Steve Ramirez’s endorsement of Cal High in the recent Championship game led Beltran to want a look-alike stadium all to himself. That would be a sweet joke, that Margarito is so charmed by Pioneer stadium that he just can’t refuse the job.

    But I suspect the truth lies in the fact that from an enrollment perspective, Pioneer is a sinking ship. Ovieda, the former Santa Fe Principal, was yanked from her cozy position on Orr & Day, and told to save Pioneer from closure.

    Likewise, if Beltran takes over at Pioneer, it is not a move of his choosing. The district must have told him that he would be given perks to make the move, or else be put in jeopardy if he didn’t. A winning football program is thus seen as the way to increase enrollment.

    The fact is that Pioneer was built to take the overflow from El Rancho and Santa Fe during the ‘baby boom’ years of the sixties and seventies. With that era now long behind us, the school is no longer needed. Whittier District struggles to keep it open only for the sake of the state money it garners.

    Essentially what’s happening here is that the Whittier District is at war with the El Rancho District over state money, and a good football program is seen as the best weapon.

  • Jesus Christ

    Close the school and open a Park/Community Center… or League Head Quarters for pete’s sake. You can host League Events there and such.

    A Football Program at Pioneer would only be average at best. No Miracles will be worked there. 1 League Title for every 10-15 Years the School has been in existence doesn’t justify throwing money away.

    Dismantle the School. Expand the talent pool everywhere else.

    This a simple case of addition by subtraction.

    Also, why are we being spammed with a story about a kid from Chino Hills? How about keeping things local? First 2 user comments are about the Del Rio League.

    Keep things Local!!!!

  • anonymouss

    hey, leave mr steve alone to his work. he can write a story on who ever he wants you know. he has very little time to do things, and i am sure that none of the local kids are deserving of his time. i like reading about the kids from outside his coverage zone. something new to read about. go get em steve, you know how to use your time and cover sports.

  • anonymous

    We dont need to close Pioneer we need to build more schools; a strong public education system is essential to the individual and collective well-being of our country and its people, and to the development of an informed and engaged citizenry, without which no democracy can exist and flourish.

    A strong, universal system of public education is the foundation of the American middle class, and is vital to the survival of the United States as a broadly middle class society in the global economy.

    The guarantee of access to a free and quality public education should be a right accorded to every child in this country. Securing that guarantee should be a goal and a value that unites all Americans and is supported by our public policies and policymakers at every level.

    At this time in the history of our country, all those who support public education, as the labor movement has historically donewho believe in its centrality to our national vitality and are committed to strengthening this institution so every child, in every corner of the country, has access to a great educationshould come together to affirm this commitment. Which is done at Pioneer, many go on to attend college and be productive citizens. One could argue Pioneer sends more kids to higher education institutions than a St Paul or Amat.

    A public education system in all its component partspre-K, K-12 and higher educationcan be strong, vital and productive only with the broad support, commitment and participation of all sectors of our communities.

    A public school adds to our local economy as a park drains local funds.