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'Complete player' title means most to Ducks corner Ekpre-Olomu

EUGENE — The greatest compliment you can give a cornerback is to call him a “lockdown corner.”

Elite cornerbacks want to go one-on-one with the best receivers and shut (lock) them down.

Oregon Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu says he does not care about that title very much, though. Sure, he wants to shut down the receiver he is guarding. But he says being a complete football player is far more important to him.

“You want to be able to cover your man,” Ekpre-Olomu says, “but that’s not all of what being a corner is. You have to be a complete player, whether it’s covering your man, making tackles, having the correct reads, just making sure you’re playing with the right attitude and making sure you’re playing a team game.EKPRE-OLOMU

“A lot of times, corners get isolated and just think about the guy in front of them instead of the bigger picture of the defense. You have to be able to play within the defense, because that’s how you’re able to make plays.”

That mind-set has made Ekpre-Olomu arguably the biggest star on the Ducks' defense. The 5-10, 185-pound junior was named all-Pac-12 after amassing 78 tackles (second on his team) and three interceptions (also second).

“He’s an all-around player,” fellow UO cornerback Avery Patterson says. “I don’t feel like he has any weaknesses. If he does, he’ll be the first one to work on it — staying after practice, staying late. He has an extreme amount of work ethic, and it carries onto the field.”

Ekpre-Olomu grew up in Chino Calif., a city made famous in the FOX show “The O.C.”. In the teen drama that defined a generation in the early oughts, Chino is portrayed as a rough town where the show’s protagonist, Ryan Atwood, grew up. Ekpre-Olomu balks a little at the show’s portrayal of his hometown.

“I feel like it’s a normal suburb,” Ekpre-Olomu says. “Maybe if you go to some parts (it’s rough). But, for the most part, where I grew up I felt like it was a place where I could succeed. It wasn’t too rough, or anything like that. There are some parts that aren’t as nice, but for the most part, I feel like it’s not really a ghetto at all.”

At Chino Hills High, Ekpre-Olomu played free safety, though he knew cornerback would be his position in college.

“I played free safety, but when we played against good receivers I’d go out to corner,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to play corner. But I played free safety because it was the best thing for the team.”

After his prep career, Ekpre-Olomu chose Oregon over several other Pac-12 schools.

“I just felt like Oregon was always the right place for me,” he says. “I felt like I had the best chance to be successful here. At that time, Oregon was creating a national brand, and I thought it was just going to keep getting better.

“Of course the weather is nicer (in California), but I wasn’t too worried about the weather. Oregon wasn’t too far away, but at the same time it was a little distance away, so I felt like I could be on my own.”

Ekpre-Olomu appeared in all 14 games his true freshman year, making 34 tackles. His sophomore year, he started all 13 games and had four interceptions and 63 tackles.

The next game for Ekpre-Olomu will be the Dec. 30 Alamo Bowl against Texas in San Antonio. Ekpre-Olomu says he will have his hands full with the Texas receivers.

“They have some good receivers, obviously — it’s Texas,” he says. “They have a lot of great athletes, a lot of fast players. They have some great slot receivers, and their two outside receivers are able to catch balls and make plays. As cornerbacks, me and Terrance (Mitchell) have to be on our A-game and make sure we slow the vertical penetration.”

The Alamo Bowl may be Ekpre-Olomu’s final game for Oregon. Predicted by some as a first-round NFL pick, Ekpre-Olomu will have a tough decision to make after the season is over about whether to leave early or come back for his senior season.

“I just want to make sure I get all the facts right, make sure wherever my heart is, that’s what I’m going to do,” he says. “That’s the main thing for me.”

Safety Brian Jackson says Ekpre-Olomu has the potential to do well in the NFL.

“The guy has great coverage,” Jackson says. “When teams try to isolate corners, he does a great job of being out there by himself. He’s a very special player.

"It helps that he can tackle. In a lot of systems we play against, they try to isolate the corners and make them make plays. He’s handled himself.”

While being taken in the first round would give Ekpre-Olomu generational money, he says there are advantages to staying at Oregon and getting more seasoning.

“The NFL today, it’s a lot different,” he says. “Of course being in the first round you can make a lot of money. But, at the same time, it’s what you do when you get there. I feel like I’m not really worried about where I’m going to be drafted.

"It’s what I’m going to do from there.”