Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks: Ready to Return to Dominance
“We can play with anybody.”
That’s what redshirt junior running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks said before the Danes opened their season at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Ibitokun-Hanks was forced to sit out all but one game in 2017 after injuring his knee at the end of the 2016 season. Healthy again, the star running back is expected to carry the torch for the Danes’ offense in 2018.
I caught up with him after practice on Tuesday, asking him a few questions while he donned what he called his “swag shades”…
Omar Noujoum: You missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, getting to play in just one game before having to sit out the rest of the way. Did you ever have any doubts about if you’d be the same player or even if you’d get to play again in your UAlbany career?
Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks: No, I had no doubt. I knew everything happens for a reason. I’ve always believed that, growing up through Christianity and the Bible, so I knew when I wasn’t ready, it was just god telling me that I wasn’t ready, and I just had to keep going and move forward.
ON: So, you sat out for quite some time, and had some time to work on the little things in your game. Anything stand out to you as something you improved on while injured?
EIH: Not really. My biggest thing was getting back to who I was before and even better, so I was working on basics. With the injury, there’s a lot of things you have to reteach yourself. I had to reteach myself how to walk, how to walk up the stairs, how to run, how to cut, and stuff like that, so that’s what I mainly focused on. Whenever I had a stage like learning how to walk again, I made sure I did everything perfectly. I made sure every cut was perfect. Those were my focal points and I told myself that’s what I’m going to perfect.
ON: You guys open up the season against Pittsburgh, an FBS opponent, on the road. What do you think you guys as a team can take from that game going forward?
EIH: I think the biggest thing is just confidence. Being able to know that we can play with anybody, whether you’re FBS, FCS, just that confidence going into conference play could be enough to win the whole thing.
ON: You have another new quarterback, Vincent Testaverde, in front of you this year. What has that transition been like for you and the rest of the offense?
EIH: I think each quarterback brings their different qualities to the game,but whoever is in, the rhythm doesn’t change. The offense is still going be the same. We still have the same offensive coordinator, same o-line, so whoever plays is the best bet, but Vinny is going to do what he has to do to take this offense to the next level.
ON: I know you’re a new father. First off, congratulations But second off, how has that changed you on the football field as a player and leader?
EIH: Thank you thank you. It definitely helped me as a leader. It helped me to know that you’re not doing this for yourself, and that’s the same thing when I’m on that field, I have to let [my teammates] know that I’m here for [them]. Same thing with fatherhood. Hopefully your son grows up to figure out that everything you’ve done and every decision you’ve made was for him.
ON: You had a monster 2016 season, putting up some huge numbers and earning some national recognition. That led to big expectations going into 2017, which were thwarted by your injury. Forget us media folk for a second, what do you expect from yourself this year?
EIH: I’m just looking to be better than I was [in 2016]. If I had 1400 yards, I want 1402. Just little things like that to show my progression from two years ago to now, that’s my biggest thing this year.
ON: Let’s close out with something outside of football. We all know summer practices are long, hot and grueling. What’s your go-to food option after practice?
EIH (after verbally pondering for a while): “When in doubt, Blaze will get you out! (Teammates behind Ibitokun-Hanks let out a collective groan). Blaze Pizza baby, you’ve got to! Even in the heat, you’ve got to have the Blaze Pizza.