They Couldn't Shake Him and He Wouldn't Go Away
Friday, November 21, 2003
Today is the "Ech Man's" 23rd birthday, and all he wants is a new paint job for his beloved "White Angel," a ‘91 Honda Civic.
That, and a bowl game.
"If we didn't go to the postseason, I wouldn't feel satisfied," says senior tailback Adimchinobe Echemandu.
After the valleys and peaks of Echemandu's Cal career, a bowl game does not seem too much to ask.
Echemandu already ranks third on the list of most 100-yard games in a season, with five, and became just the eighth Cal player to run for over 1,000 yards in a season and the 10th player to rush for 200 yards in a game.
But Echemandu's career highs did not come without more than their share of lows.
The product of Hawthorne High School in Southern California came into Cal with much different expectations of how his career was going to unfold.
"I was thinking I was going to graduate in four years, play good football, and hopefully win a Pac-10 Championship," says Echemandu.
The dream started out as planned, with Echemandu recording big numbers as a true freshman.
"My first impression of him was that he was loud and cocky," says senior offensive lineman Mark Wilson, who was Echemandu's suite-mate in Clark Kerr freshman year. "But with the way he plays, he can back it up."
Then, with the start of the 2001 season, Echemandu would begin to see less field and more frustration.
Due to an excess of summer school units to make up for a dropped class the year before, Echemandu found himself academically ineligible.
Sitting out the entire fall season was only the beginning of what would eventually read as a Murphy's Law list of hindrances.
During spring ball of 2002, just as the program was adopting Jeff Tedford, Echemandu tore his ACL and lateral meniscus, undergoing surgery to repair the injuries.
"It was hard," says Echemandu. "I had just come off a redshirt season and I thought I finally had my chance to start. I thought my time had come."
Support from family, coaches and teammates kept Echemandu emotionally afloat during his tough recovery.
In the midst of his hardships, Echemandu made the decision to revert back to the name he had answered to up until his first days at Cal.
Born Adimchinobe Echemandu in Lagos, Nigeria, the Ibo name is what you will find on all of his Cal paperwork, including his Letter of Intent.
Before coming to Cal, Echemandu's father, a pastor, advised his son to simplify his name to avoid hassles. And so, Adimchinobe Echemandu became Joe Echema.
"After everything I went through, I wanted to change it back to my original name as a rededication to myself and how hard I was going to work for this program," says Echemandu. "I wanted to let people know where I am coming from and my nationality."
With a name restoration and a belief in God, Echemandu marched on with his recovery.
"I just kept believing that God had a plan for me," he says.
Part of that plan was for Echemandu to experience an emergency appendectomy on the cusp of his November return to the playing field during the 2002 season.
Following two missed seasons in a row, Echemandu graduated in May 2003 with a degree in sociology. With another year of eligibility on the horizon, Echemandu began a masters degree in education, which he hopes to use in fulfilling his goal of someday becoming a high school principal.
Throughout his personal setbacks, Echemandu has taken the time to be a tutor and a peer advisor for incoming freshmen student-athletes in the Athletic Study Center's Summer Bridge program.
Coach Jeff Tedford recognizes the lessons in perseverance that his senior leader can pass on to younger teammates.
"At first, I didn't know what to think of Echemandu," says Tedford. "But I grew to respect him very much. His attitude can teach players that if you don't give up and don't get discouraged, good things can happen for you."
After spraining his ankle at Oregon this season, Echemandu once again had to experience the sidelines during his last home game against Washington last weekend.
"It was really hard to sit that out, but I'm ready to play this weekend at Stanford," says Echemandu, with a sly smirk. "And if we make it to a bowl game, I'm gonna make it fun."
Coming into Cal, it was a goal of Echemandu's to put pride back into the program. Along the way, he has endured, without regret, some of the greatest learning experiences that college sports can offer.
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