J.T. Ibe could’ve felt all the woe in the world.
He was plucked from a so-so Rice program and landed with a nine-win SEC football team in South Carolina. What’s more, he worked his way into a starting role when the season began, beating out numerous former four-star recruits for the job.
And then almost nothing went right, and he’s hitting a reset with a year of college ball no one expects to play.
“The biggest thing I focused on is, honestly, staying positive and bringing the guys up around me,” Ibe said as he looked back at the offseason. “It hasn’t really been a me-focused thing because I have been injured, so all I could do is bring guys up around men.”
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In the four games Ibe played, he admits he simply didn’t play well. He got a lot of work early against Coastal Carolina, but from there his snaps dwindled. Then came the knee injury that lingered, and lingered, and lingered, until finally Ibe was in position to apply for a sixth year after missing the final nine games.
He got that granted and now gets to try again. He says he’s been blessed with six years to play, and when he was considering his options, the dream of a championship and a few other things kept him going in pursuit of another chance.
“(Will) Muschamp, (Travaris Robinson), my coaches, by teammates,” Ibe said. “I like it here and I feel like we’ve got something special, like really good.
“I want to be a part of that.”
Ibe made nine tackles in his brief stint on the field in 2018. He collected 42 a year earlier in Conference USA.
He’s part of a safety group that is very thin on proven bodies. Jamyest Williams also missed much of last season. Jamel Cook, a Southern Cal transfer has talent but still has a lot to prove. Jaylin Dickerson is still trying to settle into a role, while Jonathan Gipson is still young.
But in that unproven group, he’s also an older voice, and even his experience the past year says something.
“He just showed us determination,” sophomore cornerback Jaycee Horn said. “Being out early last year and having to sit and rehab most of the year and then coming back this spring, he didn’t lose a step. He’s moving good out there. He’s a leader, your old head. We always pick on him about that.”
Horn called Ibe a “professional” for some of the little things he does, such as taking care of his body, even in the midst of practice.
That approach matches how Ibe wants to carry himself. Last year was a big jump in level of competition, but he declined to place the root of his struggles on that.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m hard on myself,” Ibe said. “I’m not going to say it was injury, it was lack of just knowing the playbook, but I don’t think I played well last year at all. I carry my film like a backpack. That’s my resume, so I feel like I’m here to prove something on my resume, on my tape, that I’m a better player in the SEC than I showed last year.”
He’ll have one last chance to prove it. His position is a wide-open battle at this juncture. The staff poured bodies into it last season, only to watch a rash of injuries wipe away any semblance of depth.
Ibe missed the start of spring, but he’s back now, working with the starters. His last year was trying, but that sense of woe didn’t seep in.
“That’s just life. Coach talks about adversity. You go through things. It’s how you respond, not how you react. Starting, great to start, accomplished a goal, happens, go through it again. I’m here now.”