Noah Igbinoghene tends to move in silence.
The Auburn incoming freshman didn’t make much noise as a national football recruit. When it came to national camps, media, campus visits and everything else that comes with college football recruiting, Igbinoghene operated differently — seemingly more maturely — than most despite the fact he began his senior year of high school as a 16-year-old.
As a track and field star, Igbinoghene quietly cruised his way to state championships and records. He rarely speaks during his meets, but that doesn’t stop him from being the talk of the event. He runs his race or performs his jump. Then he puts on his sweats, throws on his headphones and waits in solitude for his next opportunity to show anyone who’s watching that louder isn’t always better.
“He kinda keeps to himself most of the time,” Hewitt-Trussville track coach David Dobbs said. “Sometimes I’ll even text him multiple times without a response. He likes to go about his work and doesn’t feel like everyone else needs to know.”
Igbinoghene came from one of the biggest high schools in Alabama, but the 3-star wide receiver didn’t receive much attention — and that hasn’t changed much since committing and signing with Auburn. It took less than a month, in November of last year, for Igbinoghene to receive an offer, take a visit and commit.
He could count his public interviews on one hand.
Igbinoghene’s moment in the dark could be short-lived, however.
He’s starting to emerge from the limelight. He won multiple state championships and set multiple state records. Igbinoghene shined at the Alabama-Mississippi all-star football game last fall despite being one of the more unseen prospects on the Alabama side.
He may not speak much, but his athletic performances say plenty.
The Igbinoghene Olympic legacy
When Igbinoghene is the pupil, coaching comes easy.
“I think [Auburn] coach [Gus] Malzahn and [Auburn track] coach [Ralph] Spry would both agree with this: Good genetics can make anyone look like a smart coach,” Dobbs said.
The story of Igbinoghene flaunting uncommon athleticism in Alabama began more than two decades ago and more than 6,000 miles away.
In the late 1980s, Festus and Faith Igbinoghene were high school track standouts in the Edo State of Nigeria. That caught the attention of American colleges. Festus was recruited to Mississippi State as a long jumper and triple jumper. Alabama signed Faith to run the 100, 200, 4 x 100 and 4 x 400.
Their high school success quickly turned into national collegiate and international recognition.
Festus sparkled at the NCAA level, which is where he placed most of his focus. He won a combined five SEC titles in the triple jump and long jump. He won bronze at the 1990 Commonwealth Games and competed for world championships.
“I didn’t do nothing at the Olympics, though,” Festus said with a smirk, glancing at his wife.
Faith always gets a kick out of that one. She did go to the Olympics.
Faith won a bronze medal in the 1992 Summer Games as a part of the Nigerian women’s 4 x 100 relay team. The same group took fifth in Atlanta four years later. They added a gold medal at the same Commonwealth Games where Festus won bronze, and they represented Africa for the World Cup track championships.
It’s no wonder Noah morphed into a multi-sport star who is set to compete in both in college.
“Genetics, it does play a major part,” Faith said. “He works really, really hard, but it always helps to have both parents who competed at such a competitive level.”
Adopting the family tradition
It’s not always easy being the son of two world-class athletes.
“They have a high expectation for you. It can even get frustrating sometimes. We’ve had a few tough moments. My sophomore year, they’d always be saying, ‘You need to be jumping this. You need to be jumping that.’ There was a bunch of yelling. I guess all the frustration came then. But we let it out, and it made me better,” Noah told SEC Country this spring. “But it’s so good for me having a parent-coach that you can go back home to.”
Noah calls his father his “biggest coach,” so when it came to track and field events, he was learning from one of the world’s best.
It resulted in some confrontations, but for the most part the father-son tandem was driven by a common goal. Noah wanted to win state championships and set state records. Festus hoped to watch his son see his dream come to fruition.
“Noah has a very, very, very good work ethic. He works so hard. I’ve done some workouts with Noah that grown men wouldn’t have survived,” Festus said. “It looks easy for him. But he worked so hard to be able to do it.”
When 10-year-old Noah picked up track, rigorous workouts became a family routine.
Three hours, three times a week. Stadium stairs. Bounce jumps. Agility and speed drills. Sled drills. Short-distance runs. Long-distance runs. You name it. Noah and Festus did it.
The Olympic-style training worked.
Noah became a multiple state champion in track and field. At the conclusion of his high school career, he had claimed six Alabama High School Athletic Association titles between the long jump and triple jump, both indoors and outdoors.
Noah stole the show at the most recent state meet, breaking the triple jump state record three times on his way to state-title redemption.
He ranks second in the nation in the triple jump and has the ability to score in the event for Auburn next track season.
“Coach Spry has to be thrilled. He gets a guy who can score points in the SEC as a freshman, and he doesn’t even have to burn a scholarship,” Dobbs said.
Forging his own career path
For all of Noah’s personal accolades, nothing is more vivid in his memory bank than the 2016 Hewitt-Trussville football season.
“The best high school sports memory was probably going 10-0 in the regular season last year for football. That was huge for us,” he said. “Hewitt has had some bad years in the past, so to shock the city, that probably meant more than any individual gold medal or anything I’ve ever won.”
If Noah had to pick between football and track, he wouldn’t need much time to choose the gridiron.
He loves track and field, and admits his passion for football could prevent him from going further in his original sport. But once Noah began playing cornerback in middle school, he yearned to see how far he could go. Once he transitioned to wide receiver, his father knew it was time to turn those grueling track workouts into football workouts.
“There was a point where he was not used to catching the ball, so I said, ‘We need to start throwing the ball to him.’ We’d start like arm’s length. If you miss it, it’s probably going to break your nose. I’d throw the ball hard to him,” Festus said.
“[Faith] would say, ‘Are you trying to kill him or something?’ If he can catch this ball right here, he can catch any ball that’s thrown to him. We threw every day. After that, that was it. He didn’t drop balls anymore.”
Noah’s consistency hasn’t dropped off, either.
Despite a lower ranking and a lack of recognition, he grabbed the attention of the Auburn, Notre Dame and Duke coaching staffs, which all sought him out as one of their top receiver targets. But the Tigers had the hometown pull. Once they saw his 1,700-plus all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns, Auburn picked up its recruiting efforts. That was all it took.
The Alabama-Mississippi all-star game provided an opportunity for coaches and parents to be surprised by his rise to stardom. His family expects Auburn coaches to be similarly shocked by Noah’s early potential.
“They’ve talked about a redshirt, but I think he’s going to play. I just don’t know if Auburn knows what it has yet. They’ll see when they see him work,” Faith said. “When he went to the all-star game, he blew my mind. Even the coaches knew he had speed, but they didn’t know how good he was at everything else. They’ll see it soon.”