Richard Jibunor tries to call his mother once a a day, at least.
Sometimes it takes some schedule-bending — with the time difference between Athens, Ga., and Nigeria — but it’s a necessary piece of daily therapy for Jibunor. He calls to catch up on school, family, church, life and, of course, Jibunor’s blossoming recruitment.
“I talk to her every day. The time difference here is about six hours. I get to call her a few times when school is out. Over the weekend we spend three hours on the phone just goofing around,” Jibunor said. “I left her at such a young age, and she’s not getting phone calls of me in trouble. She’s getting calls of good news and what the future has, so the whole recruiting process is a good thing. It’s a good feeling.”
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To help her son escape religious crisis, Jibunor’s mother found Athens Christian School through a foreign exchange program when he was 14 years old. He left before his freshman year of high school and hasn’t been able to return to see his parents or younger brother.
Much has changed since then.
Jibunor has become a high-priority target for all the top schools in the southeast. The 6-foot-4, 206-pound linebacker’s recruitment kicked off the summer between his freshman and sophomore years — before he’d ever played a competitive down of football — when he started his recruiting camp tour.
In short order, the 3-star linebacker launched to the top of recruiting boards for Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and others. He can rep 285 pounds on bench press with ease and feels slighted when a 40-yard dash time only shows a 4.5 or 4.6 on his first run. He’s a linebacker coach’s dream.
Two coaches, in particular, stick out the most to Jibunor when he talks about his process.
“I have a very close relationship with coach T-Will (Auburn LB coach Travis Williams). Coach Jeremy Pruitt from Alabama. Those two guys, I’m in a really good relationship with them so far,” Jibunor said. “Everybody is telling me how much they love me. Alabama checks on me a lot. Auburn checks on me a lot.”
Jibunor is ranked the No. 728 overall prospect in the nation, but that’s a deceiving number.
He hasn’t been evaluated as long as many other prospects. The better sign of Jibunor’s ability is the clout of the specific programs — Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, etc. — who covet him. Jibunor is impressed with the pitch from all the schools, but he knows it’s time to start narrowing down his options. He wants to have a final decision before his senior season.
He’s starting to get a better idea of his favorites — with Auburn near the top.
“I’m really hoping to make my decision. I’m trying to get my recruitment over. It’s a lot. I’m really hoping to make my commitment before my senior year,” Jibunor said. “I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’m figuring out one of the schools I might land, but I haven’t really decided where yet. I just have a few schools where I really feel a lot of love from and really like the campus.”
Jibunor will return to the Plains this week for his second unofficial visit of the month. He visited for Auburn’s junior day on March 4. He’ll be back for more personalized time with Williams and the rest of Auburn’s staff when he comes back.
The Tigers have already started to establish themselves as the perceived leaders, even though Jibunor doesn’t want to explicitly name any specifically at this time.
“I know I like Auburn a lot. Anytime I step on a campus, I always feel great, but especially at Auburn,” Jibunor said. “Every time I step to Auburn, I feel like a champion. I feel like that’s the place for me. I still have to take my time, but for now I really like Auburn.”
Unlike most places, Auburn recruits Jibunor with more than just a position coach. Sure, Williams leads the charge for the Tigers, but he’s not the only one. In fact, plenty of the Auburn coaches have tried to, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, lure Jibunor away from the linebacker position.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner was one of the first to try it. Jibunor came to Auburn for a camp more than a year ago and all of the coaches were blown away by his raw athletic ability. Garner wanted to test Jibunor’s skill set as a pass rusher.
“Coach Garner took me to defensive ends to go up against some big offensive linemen who are now big recruits in the nation. I went against them with no moves or anything. But it was fun, and I did pretty good. Since then, coach Garner has always told me he wants me to play defensive end,” Jibunor said.
Auburn has talked with Jibunor about safety, linebacker, Buck defensive end, even tight end and wide receiver. But Jibunor knows linebacker or pass rusher is his calling, which is why he regularly studies the tape of his NFL idol Von Miller.
Because of his position, Williams has become the primary recruiter for Jibunor, as has been the case with most linebackers for the last two seasons. With his family still in Nigeria, Jibunor regularly searches for father figures and role models in his daily life, so that he can replicate that behavior to younger players at Athens Christian.
Williams is prime example No. 1, Jibunor said. His take on Auburn’s linebacker coach is a must-read.
“Trying to be a better man and working hard to become better, I see T-Will as a symbol of hard work,” Jibunor said. “For his size, to play at the college level and do what he did and have the ability to go pro. That’s an example of hard work. That’s not something that’s common for someone that size. He worked hard. When he tells you things, he’s not telling you what he thinks. He tells you what he knows.”
People who visit Auburn like to talk about the family environment.
For Jibunor, it’s not literal, but it makes sense why it feels that way. There’s the connection with coaches, but it’s more than that. Jibunor doesn’t get to see much of his native Nigeria. He reconnects with the culture through music, which is what he listens to most during workouts and before games.
But there still isn’t much Nigeria in his daily life.
When he visits Auburn, that changes thanks to a familiar face — Prince Tega Wanogho.
Jibunor knew the Auburn offensive lineman before either left Nigeria, and he got to know him better once it became clear both would pursue college football careers. Jibunor relishes having that friendship on the Plains, which gives him a comfort with Auburn he doesn’t share many other places.
“Going to Auburn, I needed a place where I had a strong relationship with coaches and knew people. With Auburn, Tega has been there. They treat him well and everything. I went to the camp, and coaches told me how great Tega was doing. It was awesome because everything he was telling me was the same as what Tega was telling me, so I knew it was real,” Jibunor said. “He tells me everything that goes on. He’s someone who is like a big brother for me. It’s been years. We’ve known each other for a long time.”
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