IB boards Greyhound to Eastern

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The quintessential Warrior.

Ask those who know Ibrahim Maiga best, and that’s the response you’ll get.

Maiga, the humble, likable, intelligible Socorro quarterback, signed a national letter of intent with Eastern New Mexico on Thursday.

After a standout year with the Warriors. Maiga saw his options open up. New Mexico Highlands pursued the senior, and the University of New Mexico wanted Maiga to join the program as a preferred walk-on, but in the end, Maiga said, the prospect of getting his school paid in full proved too much to discount.

“I grew up watching (UNM), and of course, you always want to be a Lobo,” he said. “And I always felt like I was going to be a Lobo. … There was no wrong decision. But I thought (Eastern) was right.”

Maiga — whose father, Abba, has a Ph.D. in geology from New Mexico Tech — said Eastern fit the bill of sale from both an educational and athletic standpoint. The school has a sports medicine program, which Maiga is looking to study. The destination, too, was attractive to Maiga’s mother, DJ, even in spite of the lengthy drive to Portales.

“If we have to be there every two weeks to visit him because he’ll be homesick, we’ll do that,” she said.

On the football field, though, it was Maiga who made opponents sick.

After starting as a cornerback on the Warriors’ state runner-up team, and getting some reps as a wideout, Maiga played both ways as a junior. SHS Athletics Director Damien Ocampo said he caught more than passes with his Velcro hands; he caught people’s attention, too.

Imagine people’s surprise, then, when Maiga shifted behind center during the 2011 campaign, under the guidance of first-year head coach Louie Laborin.

The move, made out of necessity, panned out.

Maiga enjoyed his best year individually, rushing for more than 1,800 yards and 27 touchdowns. He garnered first-team, all-state accolades, and collectively, Socorro raced to a 9-0 record in a year when the Warriors weren’t expected to make much, if any, noise after graduating 15 seniors.

As the primary source of the Warriors’ offense, Maiga had a number of big games, but it was his 378-yard, six-TD performance against Hot Springs that made him a landmark in a just-driving-through city.

Yet it wasn’t till his senior year that Maiga started getting nibbles. He attended the Lobo camp up in Albuquerque, sent tape to programs and began receiving letters from a handful of schools last spring, but “nothing serious.”

That changed Jan. 28, when Maiga made an official visit to Eastern.

UNM was also on his short list of destinations, and he said at one point, he was certain he’d end up in cherry in silver. But after careful consideration, and with some prodding from his parents, Maiga boarded with the Greyhounds, guided by first-year head coach Josh Lynn.

“I had my mind set since I was a little kid,” Maiga said. “Since I was a little kid, I always said I was going to play college football, no matter what.”

Socorro’s finest

Abba and wife DJ moved to the United States from West Africa in 1978. They lived in New York, before bedding down in Socorro in 1982. Maiga, the youngest of four siblings, is one of two children born and raised in Socorro.

This year, Maiga made his bones as a hard-nosed footbrawler, chugging out the hard-earned yards, taking hits, peeling himself off the floor and doing it again. Typically, in football, the less stained a quarterback’s uniform is, the better. But with Maiga, his white pant and jersey ensemble was always scuffed up with grass marks.

And to think his muscular, string-bean frame doesn’t suggest he’d be able to take a pounding. He’s equal parts physical as finesse, having been clocked at 4.52 in his 40-yard dash. Coaches said he is among the strongest Warriors, benching 245 pounds.

That wasn’t always the case, though.

Ocampo coached Maiga for three years, but the two’s relationship dates back further.

Ocampo had just graduated from college and was working with the Socorro recreation program when Maiga was a member of his track team. He remembered taking the squad to a meet in Roswell.

“He was like the littlest guy out there, but he won long jump, or one of the jumps, and he was real excited about it,” Ocampo said. “I knew his family real well, especially his brother, and I remember thinking, ‘This kid’s gonna be special.’ Sure enough … in the last four years, he’s proven himself not just a great athlete, a great football player, but probably one of the toughest, most physical skill kids we’ve ever coached. In every sense of the word, he’s a Warrior.”

So what will the warrior miss most about being a Warrior?

“All the memories, man,” Maiga said. “Just everything. Walking down that Warrior path. Going to that field Friday nights. That was the best thing ever.”

The legacy

For all his grit and glittering career at Socorro, Maiga won’t be remembered most for his athletic achievements.

“It’s probably not the touchdowns. It’s probably not the big plays,” Ocampo said.

Then what?

People might flock to him because of his gridiron virtuosity, but Maiga doesn’t carry himself with a narcissism that stereotypes high school athletes. He’s humble, engaging and unselfish — the ultimate sacrificial lamb, who will put himself in peril for the sake of his team.

Run through the Maiga catalogue, and that theme becomes evident.

Just this year, Maiga, a two-way starter, could be seen on the sidelines getting cramps massaged out of his calfs so as to re-enter the Warriors’ quarterfinals matchup with Hope Christian.

Ocampo said he’d never forget another instance when Maiga, then a junior, thought little of taking himself out against Hatch Valley in a game that seemed out of reach. He grimaced on the sideline, favoring his side, and then went onto the field and gutted it out.

“We had so many guys hurt that we were literally playing with half a JV team,” Ocampo said. “And Ibrahim was having spasms coming from his back to his deltoid. And you could tell he was in so much pain, but he refused to leave that game. It’s one of those things where the fans didn’t see that, but he battled till the end. Didn’t matter if we were up or down.”

Laborin said Maiga might be the most down-to-earth, coachable player he’s had under his tutelage.

“He’s not one of those kids whose head doesn’t fit through the door,” he said. “No one sees him as bigger than life. He’s just an average kid going to school at Socorro. He just happens to have some talent. And he doesn’t forget where he comes from.”

That humility has been drilled in him since birth. His parents made certain of it. They set curfews, supplied structure, but above all, loved and nurtured Maiga, who has blossomed from a sapling into a well-build oak.

“IB, praise God, he’s not another burden child,” Abba said. “He listens to his parents. He listens to his coaches. And he works hard. That’s the ingredients for success.”

Oh, and one other thing, Ocampo said.

“Everybody knows IB,” he said. “Everybody’s known him forever. It seems like he’s liked by all. A lot of times you get a kid who is that talented, has everything going for him, and there seems to be a lot of jealousy, but I don’t know a kid at the high school who doesn’t like him. People gravitate around him.”

Because he is the quintessential Warrior.

 


-- Email the author at iavilucea@dchieftain.com.

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