Former Warrior standout headed east to play for the Greyhounds

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Young athletes are changing. In many instances within the high school and college ranks, blooming competitors are rife with measurable amounts of hubris, entitlement and a disregard for responsibilities attached to the privilege of being an athlete.

One can simply Google “high school athlete arrests” and find a nationwide plethora of arrests related to drugs, theft and violence.

Even in light of more high profile cases such as Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, recently dismissed Ohio State linebacker Storm Klein and former Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell, young people seem to continually operate under a puzzling assumption of invincibility.

Luckily for the Socorro sporting community, it has a guy who represents the complete antithesis of all those negatives.

Or at least it will until next Thursday when Ibrahim Maiga heads off to Portales to play college football for the Eastern New Mexico University Greyhounds.

Known as “Ibi” to his friends, Maiga has been an excelling athlete since he was in eighth grade, when he made the varsity baseball squad. His ego might have blown up then, at least according to the contemporary formula, but the lifelong Socorroan operates with a calming humility and a positive demeanor that can make you forget you’re speaking with an 18 year old.

Maiga also played basketball and ran track his senior year, but football has been in his blood, almost literally, since he was a child. His brother, Sadou, played football at Socorro High School as well.

“I was all about it,” Maiga said. “After watching him (Sadou), I was like ‘I’ve got to be a high school football player. A Warrior.’” And a Warrior is exactly what he became. Maiga played varsity from his sophomore year on, helped his team nearly win a state championship that year, and capped his high school career with an almost ridiculous senior campaign. He ran for 2,102 yards and racked up 27 total touchdowns for a Warrior squad that was two wins away from a state title in 2011.

Those stats were more than enough to earn him a trip to play in the 2012 New Mexico High School Class 2A/3A All-Star Football Game.

And even though winning the big one eluded him, Maiga said he’ll always remember just playing with the people he grew up with.

“We went to battle,” he said of his gridiron counterparts. “I’m going to miss it. It was fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. No regrets.”

It was after that aforementioned sophomore year that Maiga knew he might be able to make a go at that football thing.

He knew he had a pretty good season for a sophomore, and that’s when he made the decision.

“I played pretty tough, and after that I was like, ‘This is my sport. This is what I want to do,’” he said. “I always wanted to play college football. I knew if I worked hard, I’d get rewarded eventually.”

But the process of selling yourself to any college program isn’t easy, especially for someone coming out of a small 3A school in New Mexico. It all obviously worked out for Maiga in the end, but not without some tense moments.

Initially, during his junior year, Maiga received several hand-written letters from the University of New Mexico offering him a opportunity to walk on.

“It was real exciting. I knew I had a chance,” he said. “That’s when I started working harder, getting ready for the season.”

But that was during former Lobo head coach Mike Locksley’s tumultuous tenure, and by the time Maiga graduated from Socorro High School, a new regime had been installed in Albuquerque.

So he waited, and it wasn’t actually until the 2011-12 basketball season that ENMU came knocking.

They called and told him they were interested, and to call them back if the feeling was mutual.

So just a mere 48 hours before national signing day, Maiga made the 250-mile journey east to Portales, and thus he found his home for the next four years.

“I’ve never been so stressed in my life,” he said.

Of course he wasn’t alone in his recruiting journey. He had help. He had people put themselves on the line for him and people go to bat for him. But that’s just the Socorro way.

Sometimes high school coaches can be reticent to endorse a player. No matter how talented or intelligent they might be, you never know what’s going to happen in the future, especially in college. Selling the wrong player to a program that’s not a good fit can make a coach look bad. That’s just not something people around here give a darn about.

“My coaches helped me a lot,” Maiga said.

“They got my name out there for me. They’re the ones that contacted a lot of college coaches. It helped me out. I got noticed.”

One of the advantages of playing football at Eastern is that they compete in the Lone Star Conference, arguably one of the best two or three conferences in all of Division II. One of the disadvantages of playing at Eastern is that they play in the LSC, one of the best conferences in all of Division II.

The Greyhounds have gone a paltry 11-23 since 2009, and last year’s 2-9 mark was bad enough to force the school to bring in a new head ball coach. That new head man, however, is more than familiar with the inner workings of ENMU’s football program.

Josh Lynn was a two-time All-LSC player at Eastern in the late 1990s, grabbing 44 receptions for 740 yards, all in an option-style offense.

That, coupled with the opportunity to play against some of the best athletes in D-II football, were main selling points for Maiga.

“What I like about (ENMU) is that conference,” he said. “Then you’ve got coach Lynn and that staff coming in from New Mexico Military Institute, and they had success at NMMI. He (Lynn) is a real guy. He’ll tell you how it is. He’ll look after your best interests.”

The Greyhounds kick off their 2012 season in just 28 days, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Maiga made a few appearances on the field that day. He expects to have a chance to play, but not without staying humble and putting a little elbow grease into it.

“I don’t expect anything to be given to me,” he said.

“I know times are going to get tough. I’m just going to work hard, and if I work hard, I don’t think there’s a reason why I can’t make an impact for them.

“I’ll try and help the team any way I can. I don’t really care if it’s just special teams. I’m not really one to be selfish. I want to win, and I just want to help the team win.”

Maiga attributes his attitude of consistent positive motivation to his family.

He said both his siblings have been a huge influences in his life. His brother has been by his side since he was little, and his sister has always stood by him and supported him, as well.

“I just want to thank my parents,” he added. “They raised me this way. If I want to get something, I go get it.”

Maiga hopes to study athletic training when he gets to college.