If there’s one thing that Josh Imatorbhebhe understands perhaps as much as anyone, it’s that life, and especially college football, don’t always go as planned.
It’s a lesson he’s learned throughout three years in the University of Southern California’s program in which he saw action in just seven of the Trojans’ games.
So it’s somewhat understandable that the 2016 North Gwinnett grad has approached his quick start to the 2019 at the University of Illinois with at least a little caution.
It seems like Imatorbhebhe has finally found a college football home since arriving in the Illinois program as a graduate transfer this past summer, leading the Fighting Illini in receiving yards (220), being tied for the team lead in touchdowns (4), third on the team in overall receptions (15) and fifth in yards per catch (14.7) through the first five games heading into Saturday’s game at home against Michigan.
He is taking nothing for granted.
“I’m OK with how stuff is going,” the former Daily Post All-County receiver said. “I wouldn’t say I fit like a glove (yet). There are still some things that need to be worked out (for) myself, as well as the offense. We could be a lot more successful than we’ve been. It’s just now we’re just starting to figure it out.
“To me, it’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve scored a couple of touchdowns and I’ve helped the team in some situations,’ but I can to more for the team, and the … offense needs to do more for itself. I feel like there’s more left on the table.”
It’s not that Imatorbhebhe doesn’t appreciate how his fortunes have turned this season.
In fact, he could’ve just put football behind him when he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from USC last May given his struggles to make things happen on the field the way he had them mapped out in his mind.
“It’s about learning how to deal with setbacks,” Imatorbhebhe said. “As I’ve been growing up, I’ve been fortunate enough to be gifted with tremendous athletic ability and to have a lot of great people in my life. I hadn’t really experienced real failure. Maybe a little here or there, but in terms of goal setting, even my freshman year when I was at North Gwinnett, I played basketball — the first freshman on the varsity team in a long time. Then when I played football, after my sophomore year, I had 10 (scholarship) offers. After my junior year, I had 32.
“So I was always used to being on top of my life and being in a controlled position. Then in my freshman year when I got to USC, I red-shirted. That wasn’t in my plans at all. I wanted to, obviously, start, and I wanted to be one of the top receivers the Pac-12, and I wanted to be one of the top receivers the nation. … And (eventually), I wanted to be a first-round (NFL) draft pick. These were all in my plans, so when I red-shirted, I didn’t know how to handle it. I internalized a lot of it, and it kind of started to spiral down. That and being all the way in California and I was away from my family for a bit and not really having a support system set up for me, it was a pretty dark time. I really wasn’t able to get myself out of it.”
Indeed, he felt like he had some unfinished business, though he lays the responsibility for that solely on his own shoulders, and not on those from anybody at USC.
“People don’t see what goes on behind the scenes,” Imathorbhebhe said. “They just see what happens and kind of make their own assumptions. I feel like I don’t have the same (situation) that I have now. I feel like I would’ve been doing the same thing at (Southern Cal). But, I mean, everything happens for a reason, and it’s come full circle and I’ve been able to take advantage of some opportunities (at Illinois).”
A lot of times when situations like that befall an athlete, a change of scenery can be the answer, as seems to be the case with Imatorbhebhe, and often times, that can mean returning home to be closer to one’s roots, and one’s family.
But in Imatorbhebhe’s case, it meant heading from the West Coast, where his older brother and former teammate Daniel Imatorbhebhe still attends USC, but is not playing football after an injury-plagued career, into the Midwest instead of returning home to Georgia.
While he is still close with this brother and the rest of his family, he is convinced the best path forward for now is to strike out on his own, and so far, the results have shown him to be correct.
“Not really, just because I’ve already grown up,” Imatorbhebhe said when asked if it was tough to leave his brother behind at USC. “I just did my freshman and sophomore year when I was still a little impressionable and I was still really kind of attached to him and a little bit more attached to my family. I definitely would’ve been a much harder decision (back then).
“So now that I’ve kind of grown up and I’ve been through the fire of life, so to speak, I have to make some decisions for myself. I understand that. He understands that.”