Hawaii safety Ikem Okeke has a good feeling.
The former Bishop Gorman (Nev.) player bounced around several positions over his playing career but has settled in at free safety, where he’s been a mainstay of the Rainbow Warriors’ defense.
UH (5-1, 2-0 Mountain West) has never been 3-0 in conference play since joining the MWC in 2012, but that can change this weekend with a strong showing against Wyoming (2-3, 0-1).
Okeke gave some of his time after Wednesday’s morning practice to do a Q&A session with Hawaii Warrior World.
Q: What’s the preparation been like for Wyoming?
A: Every week’s kind of the same stuff every week. Come in first day, clear the film from the week before. And then start watching film on the team we’re about to play. I mean, obviously Wyoming beat us last year (28-21 in overtime in Laramie to) take the trophy, so we’re trying to take that back on our home field. But nothing’s really changed in the preparation, we’re still doing the same things and just trying to get better every day.
Q: How well do you remember the game up at their place, and think about reversing that?
A: It’s not about trying to reverse it, (but) keep our team rolling, keep us rolling, keep our win streak going. Because I really feel like we can be as great as we want, especially in this conference. We can be one of the best teams in conference and that starts by beating the opponent in front of you every week. And this week Wyoming’s on our schedule, so it’s time to go beat them. I mean, obviously, with that it’s still kind of fresh in a lot of the team’s mind, but it’s not more (about) holding grudges, ‘all right, you guys got that one last year, we’ll come here and see if you can come get this one.'”
Q: What makes you believe you’re a good team every week besides just your record?
A: I’ve been saying we can be good since we started spring ball. I saw the talent we recruited, the camaraderie we have with each other. Being a part of a team, I just had a good feeling. Good team, good players, people that want to play for the team, that sacrifice for the team, are selfless. Just a lot of good stuff that goes into it, and I’m just happy with how we’ve been able to produce so far and hopefully we can keep it rolling.
Q: How was it making the change from linebacker to safety?
A: Well, playing linebacker, I actually started playing the nickel linebacker in this defense, at first. And the coaches just decided, maybe instead of just having me at the nickel, they’d move me to the free safety. I tried to take on that role, learn as much as I could, so that I could kind of be effective this season and help our team win games.
Q: Were you a linebacker at Bishop Gorman as well?
A: No, actually I started my career over there, my freshman year I was a running back and moved up the depth chart to varsity. And then, just sophomore year, I didn’t play too much; Gorman always has a good team. They kind of let me play running back and safety at first. And then at the end of the season they seen a little spot about to open up for the next year at the WILL linebacker spot. So I started playing a little bit of linebacker over there, got recruited for it, came here and played linebacker for two years and moved back to safety.
Q: What does it say about you that you’ve moved around the field so much?
A: I feel like it’s been helpful for me. Playing offense, I really know how a running back or receiver’s going to read, compared to just playing defense and expecting it. And then playing on linebacker, you know, I’ve had to fit inside, play heavy to the run, playing pass with speed. I just always try to keep my speed up. That’s been a main focus for me since high school, to just maintain my speed, my athletic ability, as a person who played basketball too, I was always just moving around.
Q: What position did you play for basketball?
A: Shooting guard. A little bit of point guard, but my brother was really a point guard. So I mainly played shooting guard. … I stopped playing after my junior year, though, (to focus on football). I seen an opportunity to hopefully get a scholarship here, so I said I might as well focus more on football and see where that pans out.
Q: What was it like being teammates back then with Kalen Hicks, your safety mate in the secondary here?
A: It’s good. Back then, the last time I actually played with Kalen, on the field in high school, was probably his junior year. Well, preseason senior year, but he got hurt. He was going to have a good career, getting recruited by a lot of schools. But I wanted to help him out. Knowing him since middle school, I wanted to help him get to college. When Hawaii gave me an opportunity, I was talking to them a lot about Kalen, every day, and they brought him over here and saw what he was about. And I’m just glad it’s all working out for him right now.
Q: What’s it like to look over every week and see him now?
A: Man, I gotta wake up and see him at the house every day. (laughs) But that’s my guy right there. I’m proud of how far he’s come along, from suffering through two injuries, doubting himself a lot, to trying to step up to be the man on the field. It’s just always fun to have one of your friends for a long time be out there. The chemistry, it’s kind of unmatched. It’s just easy for me to communicate with him, get the calls out and know what he’s doing at the same time so I know what I’m doing.
Q: The last three games, your tackle numbers have been up (13 vs. Army, nine vs. Duquesne, 10 vs. San Jose State). Have you been doing anything differently?
A: It’s just kind of our defense. I roll down low, the gap’s open and I gotta fire for the gap. I still got a lot of missed tackles for the past couple games, so I mean, the numbers might look good but it’s more about the stuff that you see that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Missed tackles, cleaning stuff up like that. Just try to get better every day.