ATHENS – The hurricane, and everything else awful that went down afterwards, came when Michael Chigbu was too young to remember much.
“I just know something bad happened,” Chigbu said. “And we had to go.”
One day before Katrina struck, almost 11 years ago,, Chigbu and his family fled their hometown of New Orleans for Sugar Land, Tex., where they had family. The Chigbus stayed there for a year, returning to find the first floor of their New Orleans home destroyed. It had to be gutted and rebuilt.
Now with the floods in Baton Rouge, it’s impossible not to think about Katrina again. This time, thankfully, Chigbu and his family are unscathed, as is their hometown.
It’s just about football. And the sophomore receiver is poised for a bigger profile at Georgia, the football team he chose for reasons that showed the studied approach he takes to everything.
“He’s very serious about what he does,” said Eric Rebaudo, the head football coach at Holy Cross Academy in New Orleans. “He’s very serious about anything he tries to accomplish.”
For example: When Chigbu was asked if he modeled himself after any particular receiver, his answer was quick and without explanation.
“Larry, Anquan and Dez.”
That would be, for those needing clarification, that would be three standout NFL receivers who are also big-bodied: Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 225), Anquan Boldin (6-1, 218) and Dez Bryant (6-2, 225).
“They know how to use their body,” Chigbu said. “They understand the specific skill set.”
Chigbu, listed at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, doesn’t like the possession receiver label, which is why he’s studied Fitzgerald, Boldin and Bryant.
“How they use their body. How they play the ball in certain situations, how to run a certain route and use my body,” Chigbu said. “They’re not blazers, (and) I’m not a blazer. Like I said, I’m a jack of all trades. I’m very good at everything.”
If he’s right, he figures to play a lot this season for a Georgia team that needs receivers. Chigbu didn’t play much last year (four catches for 28 yards in 10 games) but has been getting first- and second-team snaps this preseason.
It’s a remarkably quick rise for a kid who didn’t play football seriously until a few years ago.
Rebaudo and the staff at Holy Cross had to convince Chigbu, whose focus had been basketball, to come out for the football team in the 10th grade. Chigbu didn’t’ play much as a sophomore, but had an outstanding junior year. His basketball-playing ability translated to football, his ability to go up and get the football. But he was also a physical mismatch for defensive backs. He had great hands. And he worked at it.
Big-time programs began offering Chigbu after his junior year, including LSU. But the home-state Tigers didn’t even make the final cut.
“I think he loves the New Orleans area, but he always wanted to get away,” Rebaudo said. “He enjoys new places and different places.”
It came down to Georgia and Texas A&M, Then-Georgia receivers coach Tony Ball was the point man in Chigbu’s recruitment, and Chigbu’s older brother also liked Georgia a lot. But the main force leading to Georgia was Chigbu’s own research.
He studied Georgia’s roster, how many receivers they had, the offensive system, the campus and the city of Athens. He told Rebaudo he could see himself living in Athens after his career was over.
In the meantime, he hopes his Georgia career is just getting started. While the Bulldogs have some burners – Terry Godwin, Jayson Stanley and Isaiah McKenzie – Chigbu’s all-around game and blocking ability should aid his quest for playing time.
“Mike’s one of those guys, he wants to learn,” Rebaudo said. “He wants to get better. So if a coach knows they know how to progress his talent, he’ll buy in.”