Holding his own
EUGENE — Ifo Ekpre-Olomu continues to inspire his coaches and teammates as Oregon prepares for the Rose Bowl without the team’s best defensive player.
After the all-American cornerback underwent surgery on Wednesday at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles to repair his damaged knee, @ifo14 tweeted a photo of his smiling face from the post-op gurney and the following message:
“First step towards one of the greatest comebacks you’ll ever see. Thank you everyone for the support.”
The Ducks will try to keep Ekpre-Olomu’s chin up by beating Florida State on Jan. 1 in the College Football Playoff.
Defensive coordinator Don Pellum said his game plan will not change, and secondary coach John Neal said he plans to start redshirt freshman Chris Seisay.
“It’s good to hear he’s in good spirits,” Seisay said of Ekpre-Olomu. “We’re just trying to go out there and win the game for him. I know he wishes he could be out there, but we’re going to give our best effort for him.”
The 6-foot-1, 187-pound Seisay started the Wyoming game after Troy Hill was injured the week before against Michigan State. He also played the majority of the game at Utah after Ekpre-Olomu went out in the first quarter with a foot injury.
Seisay, who is from American Canyon, Calif., north of the Bay Area, has made 20 tackles (15 solo) in 11 games played this season. He has three pass break-ups, three passes defended and a forced fumble.
“I just have to step into a bigger role, a starting role,” Seisay said. “I have to hold my own and just show people they can’t pick on me.”
Oregon’s secondary will be facing Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, whose weapons in the passing game include wide receiver Rashad Greene (93 receptions, 1,306 yards, seven touchdowns) and tight end Nick O’Leary (47 receptions, 614 yards, six touchdowns).
Hill, an all-Pac-12 second team selection playing opposite Ekpre-Olomu, has had an outstanding senior season.
Safety Erick Dargan is arguably the defense’s most valuable player this season. And redshirt freshman safety Tyree Robinson is an emerging star.
Winston will certainly try to find out if Seisay and senior Dior Mathis are weak links.
“Seisay and Dior, we’ve got a lot of confidence in them. They’ve played a lot and they’re veterans, really,” Hill said. “We feel real good about what they bring to the table. We know we have to mesh a lot harder because Ifo’s presence is going to be out of the game.”
Ekpre-Olomu, who was projected as an early-round NFL pick before his season-ending injury during a non-contact drill inside the Moshofsky Center, had 63 tackles, 11 passes defended, nine pass break-ups, two interceptions and a forced fumble this season.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to be fine,” Neal said. “The tough thing from a personal aspect is just to see Ifo in this situation. It’s just really hard to look at him as a coach and as a friend and think of all the things he’s done for us.
“To have something like that happen out of nowhere (during a) simple drill, very tragic.”
Oregon wide receiver Bralon Addison, who hasn’t played this season after tearing an ACL in the spring, said he helped Ekpre-Olomu get through the “initial stage of shock” after the injury.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, fighting through this type of adversity has been a common theme throughout 2014.
Left tackle Tyler Johnstone went down with a torn ACL in fall camp. Starting tight end Pharaoh Brown was lost after a gruesome leg injury against Utah.
All-American center Hroniss Grasu (missed the last three games) and right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena (missed eight games) have endured significant lower-leg injuries.
Other key players who have missed games this season with injuries include left tackle Jake Fisher, right tackle Matt Pierson, wide receiver Keanon Lowe, wide receiver Dwayne Stanford, running back Thomas Tyner and defensive end Arik Armstead,
“You have to internalize it. Then the next thing is you’ve got to go out and fight for him. You’ve got to go out and you’ve got to carry him and fight for him,” Pellum said. “We’ve got to fight for Ifo and all the guys who got hurt this year. I think our whole team has to be ready for this challenge.
“We have to go play. That’s the bottom line.”