Editor's Note: This is the first of a three-part series chronicling the off-season change in the life of senior linebacker Tobe Nwigwe
By Steven Bartolotta
Final exams had wrapped up at the University of North Texas in late May and, and like most students Tobe Nwigwe was going to be working the first half of his summer. Nwigwe, gearing up for his senior season as the starting middle linebacker for the Mean Green, already had his job lined up- cutting grass, filling potholes, and working on a road crew. The only problem was it paid eight cents an hour and it was mandated by the state.
When Nwigwe arrived in Denton nearly five summers ago, he was by his own account, just a kid. Along the way he found himself in trouble with the law, experienced a coaching change, four straight losing seasons and capped it off with a stint in jail this summer.
“There are certain things that you realize as you mature,” said Nwigwe. “You begin to understand how your goals and dreams that you want to become a reality are affected by your actions.”
The “kid” everyone thought they knew is no more. Starting at the top, his mindset has changed, his attitude has changed, his image has changed and he wants people’s perception of him to change. Nwigwe has turned from an immature teenager who dodged authority to a grown man on the verge of a college degree with dreams of playing in the NFL.
Growing Up Fast
He grew up on the Southwest side of Houston, living with his parents, one brother and three sisters. They all shared a two bedroom place in a rougher part of town.
“My mom and dad always tried to instill education in me,” said Nwigwe. “I walked to school every day and I saw a lot at a young age growing up. I saw things that happened in the streets and some things that happen in the city are pretty rough.”
He knew at a young age that he wanted to play football. “From second grade I was always involved in sports.”
When he reached high school, Nwigwe started to concentrate solely on football and began to flourish. At Alief Elsik High School, he was a first-team all-district player and was selected to the Greater Houston Area Class 5A first team. When it came to colleges, the choice was easy. Despite offers from Colorado, TCU, Rice and Toledo Tobe’s brother, Joel, was a wide receiver at North Texas and that made his decision simple
“He showed me everything that goes on at North Texas and introduced me to everyone,” said the younger Nwigwe. “It made me comfortable knowing that he was there and having a good sense of what to expect.”
And that’s when the problems started.
Nwigwe hit the ground running when he got to North Texas and it had nothing to do with football.
“I started getting into some trouble right when I got here,” he said. “I was trapped in that high school mind frame. I felt like I was back in Houston and this wasn’t the place to act like that. I didn’t understand at a young age coming into a new environment and having all of that freedom.”
When Nwigwe arrived in Denton, the Mean Green was living large. It had just captured its fourth straight Sun Belt Conference title and nobody saw any reason the dynasty led by head coach Darrell Dickey would end.
Nwigwe’s first run-in with the law came in 2005 when he was arrested for criminal trespassing. It was an off-campus scuffle that saw no one injured but it resulted in him being banned from campus unless it was for athletic related activities or to go to class. He was also told to stay away from the dorms after the incident. However one day he went into the cafeteria to eat. It was there that he was spotted by an RA working in the dorm that recognized him. The police were called and Nwigwe was off to jail.
“There was a lot of stuff going on during that time and there was never any reason to believe that I could get in any trouble,” Nwigwe said. “There didn’t ever seem to be any consequences for our actions and that gave me a sense of invincibility.”
After winding his way in and out of the legal system for the next three years, Nwigwe was finally given one-year of probation. Besides the usual restrictions with a probation order, he was ordered to stay away from any criminal activity. Even if it meant it didn’t involve him. With one month to go on his probation, Nwigwe took a friend to a Wal-Mart. Little did he know his friend came out with merchandise he didn’t pay for.
Along with his friend, he was initially charged with criminal theft – a charge that was later dropped. What he couldn’t avoid was his probation violation for being around criminal activity. He knew that was going to bring a stiffer penalty.