Aug. 18, 2000
Turlock, CA - Joe Igber Feature
In this election year, sound bites are the order of the day. Politicians like Al Gore or George Bush have spent a lifetime perfecting the art of self-promotion and clever one-liners that are sure to end up in the newspapers the next day.
Cal tailback Joe Igber clearly isn't ready for elective office. Given opportunity after opportunity in interview situations, he won't take the bait and brag about what he accomplished last year or during the off-season when he made remarkable strides in the weight room.
Modesty is ingrained in his nature. Thus, the fact that he became the only freshman in Cal history to rush for over 100 yards in three straight games last season, or the fact that he has undisputedly changed his physical appearance in the last three months with intense workouts, doesn't mean he's ready to predict big things for the 2000 season.
He also hears the inevitable comparisons about his running style being reminiscent of Barry Sanders, because of his ability to cut on a time and change directions. Again, the humble native of Hawaii just shrugs his shoulders and avoids any comments that could be perceived as vain.
"I'm just trying to get better day by day and help this team in any way I can," says Igber. "I've put in a lot of work in the weight room, but the true test is how it will translate on the playing field."
Others in the Cal program aren't as reticent to predict big things for the 5-8, 195 pound sophomore. "Joe looks like a new man," said running back coach Ron Gould. "He's more chiseled physially than he was last year, when he relied on his natural talent. Plus, I really think he's highly motivated this year. He won't say much, but there's a different look in his eyes."
Igber exploded onto the college scene last season, as he showed impressively in spot play during the first four games of the season and then was thrust into the starting line-up against BYU on national television. On the first play of the game, he broke loose on a 55-yard run and had over 100 yards by halftime. He went on to rack up three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, against the Cougars, UCLA and Washington, before being slowed a shoulder injury late in the game vs. the Huskies.
The shoulder hampered him the rest of the season, but he still ended up finishing seventh in the Pac-10 rushing derby with 694 yards on just 148 carries.
During the off-season, strength and conditioning coach Todd Rice pushed for Igber to commit to a arduous program in the weight room. For somebody who basically never touched a weight in his life, it was a foreign concept and not something that he necessarily wanted.
However, his sense of duty finally convinced him he needed to do it and, by the start of the summer, he was in the weight room every day.
"I'm not going to lie and say working out with weights is something I like, but I'm representing my family, the rest of our running backs and our football team in general," says Igber. "It's my responsibility to all of those to get better and being stronger is a way to make me better as a player."
"Joe gained five pounds and he improved dramatically on all his lifts," says Rice. While he got bigger and stronger, he also increased his vertical leap to 33 inches and took a tenth of a second off his pro shuttle drill time (4.18). That's what you're looking for, getting bigger and quicker at the same time."
While Igber is low-key about his accomplishments and potential, there is one thing that seems to stir his emotions. Recently, the media has questioned the job security of Tom Holmoe and his coaching staff. To Igber, they are way off base. "Our coaches are fine, it's the players job to go out and execute," he says. "It hurts me to see that type of talk about Coach Holmoe. It isn't his fault. His eligibility is up. It's up to us to get the job done and I have confidence that we will."
Igber has changed his uniform number to No. 6 for the coming season, after wearing No. 29 last year. Next year, he wants to change his number again. It's a tradition he started when he entered high school and sees no reason to change. "It helps remind me that football is just a game and not to take myself too seriously."
Igber may not take himself seriously, but one can assume that those in college football will take him very seriously, if he continues to put up amazing numbers and lead Cal to a bowl game this fall. Some politicians could take a lesson from the Golden Bear tailbak.
By Kevin Reneau