Editor's Note: This is the second of a three-part series chronicling the off-season change in the life of senior linebacker Tobe Nwigwe
By Steven Bartolotta
Taken Away To Change
On May 21, 2009, Tobe Nwigwe reported to the Denton County jail to begin serving his 30-day jail sentence for violation of his probation. If you do a simple search of the Denton County jail records online, you can find his rap sheet. The criminal trespass charge, the speeding ticket, and the fact that he was being incarcerated. It was out there for the whole world to see.
What the world didn’t see however was the change that had already started to take place in Nwigwe’s life.
The first light to go off in Nwigwe’s head was around the time of the coaching change in 2006.
“Around the time of the change, I started to understand the cost of the trouble I had gotten into,” said Nwigwe.
He knew he had a chance to make a fresh start with the new coaching staff. All the wrongs of the past could be wiped away with a new coaching staff. However, when Coach Dodge and the staff came to town, Nwigwe wasn’t completely sold. Like any solid relationship, his trust with the new coaches had to be cultivated.
“I come from a background where trust must be earned and with a new coach it’s always hard to just believe everything that he says,” said Nwigwe. “I’m not going to say I was 100 percent on board with what they were saying, but I was willing to listen. I was just ready to start playing football and let the relationship develop as it will.”
Nearly two years would pass leaving the only thing for Nwigwe to think was, “I definitely know how to lose at this level.”
It was Monday, Nov. 24, three days before Thanksgiving 2008. Earlier in the day Nwigwe had received a text message from a number he didn’t recognize. The message came with an invitation to spend Thanksgiving Day with the unknown person and their family.
Nwigwe was convinced it was a prank, a teammate, a friend pulling his leg. So he responded back with “Who is this (messing) with me?” It was from Coach Dodge. He had invited Tobe over to his home to share Thanksgiving dinner with the Dodge’s.
“He didn’t know who it was at first and for about 30 minutes, he was on a rampage trying to find out my cell phone number to see if it was really me,” said Dodge.
It was. After a few humbling moments, Nwigwe responded back that he would gladly accept the invitation.
“I really couldn’t believe that he would invite me because I didn’t think we had a lot in common,” a surprised Nwigwe said. “He didn’t have to invite me, it could have been anyone on the team. All the coaches were inviting different players and I really thought it was going to be my position coach who invited me. I was shocked that it was Coach Dodge.”
During the day, the Dodge family, Tobe, and his girlfriend watched football, Riley and Nwigwe played video games, while Mrs. Dodge and Tobe’s girlfriend were in the kitchen.
After dinner, Coach Dodge and Nwigwe went outside to have their first real heart-to-heart talk. They talked, not as coach and player, but man-to-man.
“He grabbed me right after dinner and asked if we could go out on the porch and talk” Dodge said.
Both men bared their souls and honesty was not compromised.
“I was able to talk to him like a man and I told him how I felt about everything,” Nwigwe said. “I told him I really didn’t know him and how I didn’t completely trust him at first. We spoke like men and he approached me like a grown man, not like a kid. That was when my respect level for him really went up.”
The two would come away from the meeting with new found levels of respect for each other, as player and coach, but also as men.
“Tobe told me that he, and a lot of the guys on the team, were just waiting for me to crumble because of all the adversity,” Dodge said. “But when he saw that I didn’t change and that I was still maintaining a positive message, he started believing. He bought into it.”
The Turkey day feast with Coach Dodge coincided with another change in the Nwigwe file; he was starting to get it.
“Sometime last year around the holiday’s I just thought to myself a lot of people weren’t taking me seriously, they were treating me like a child,” said Nwigwe. “My appearance and everything I did was just screaming youth. In my mind I was a grown man, but the image I portrayed was that off a teenager and I realized that nobody was going to take me serious. It’s business casual all the time now. I just had to tell myself to grow up, my mindset was there but my appearance wasn’t.”