Football Feature Friday: Ibitokun-Hanks Vows to Return in Top Form
By Bob Weiner for UAlbany Athletics
ALBANY, N.Y. – University at Albany's most dynamic offensive player was relegated to cheerleading duties this spring, but he vows to be back to full strength when summer camp begins Aug. 1.
Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, a 5-foot-9 junior running back from Don Bosko High School in Newark, N.J., carried the Great Danes' offense on his back for most of the 2006 football season, but a myriad of knee injuries suffered during the team's final game last November against archrival Stony Brook prevented him from participating in spring football and raised questions about his future.
“At first, being out here and not being used to sitting on the sidelines, it was definitely tough to take,” Ibitokun-Hanks said. “But working out and motivating the guys like a cheerleader helped me overcome that (helpless) feeling. I won't be out of action for long.”
Although he couldn't take a snap during spring football practice, and couldn't even work out with the team, “EB” continued to fight back from his assortment of injuries. “I'm ahead of schedule,” he said. “The last time I talked to the doctors, I was three weeks ahead of schedule. Once I got the surgery, I had this protocol that I had to follow. They let me know what I can do each week from the doctor. Right now, I started lifting with my lower body, and I've also started running,” he said.
Ibitokun-Hanks explained that he suffered more than one injury that fateful day against the Seawolves. “I tore my ACL and my medial meniscus. When they did the surgery, they also cleaned up my lateral meniscus,” he said. “I think I'll be much better when I start playing again. I'm confident in my leg, and I know there is room to expand down there. I'm working very hard on my little muscles to make it easier to rebuild my bigger muscles.”
Ibitokun-Hanks was simply marvelous during his sophomore campaign. He ran for 1,401 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 127.4 yards per game. He also rushed for 16 touchdowns to lead the Great Danes to a 7-4 record.
UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso is a big fan of his No. 1 running back, and he's confident that EB will be back in the lineup next fall. “EB is special,” Gattuso said. “I wish I knew he'd be that good from the beginning. Last year, he was exceptional. No one player should impact whether you win or lose, but having him here makes our chances better.”
Gattuso admitted that he might have used the durable Ibitokun-Hanks a little too much last season, as the premier tailback carried the ball 247 times. But Gattuso added that he didn't believe the workload had anything to do with that season-ending injury. ‘I'm no expert on ACLs,” he said. “But my experience with ACL injuries is that they probably come about through wear and tear. My wife asked me whether I gave him the ball too much, but injuries happen. Fortunately, this injury happened last fall and not this spring.”
The plan for next fall is to reduce the UAlbany star running back's carries, at least a little. “We definitely need to cut down on EB's carries. There are times when we need him to carry 30 times but if we go to the well 39 times in a game, that's too many,” Gattuso said. “Every kid is different, but I think these kinds of injuries are more of a mental thing. They are so good with surgeries and rehab these days. Knowing EB the way I do, I'm not worried about him. He's way ahead of his rehab schedule, and he's very dedicated. He's also an incredible leader. He should be full-bore back to his workout regimen by July 1. If we can give EB the ball 24-25 times a game, I like our chances.”
Ibitokun-Hanks guarantees he'll be ready to go when the Great Danes kick off their season. “My mentality is much stronger than my body,” he said. “Mentally, I'm ready to go right now. I pretty much should be ready for training camp. I'll try to be ready for Aug. 1.”
Asked how he felt about cutting down his workload, Ibitokun-Hanks smiled. “I'm just here to play football. Whatever they need me to do, I'll do. Whatever it takes,” he said.
GOLF CLASSIC SET JUNE 26
Great Danes football fans can help support the team by playing in or sponsoring the UAlbany Football Golf Classic, scheduled for June 26 at Shaker Ridge Country Club.
Registration begins at 11 a.m., followed by lunch and a scramble tournament at 1 p.m. Entry fee is $200 per player. Entry fee includes lunch and dinner, beverages on the course, an awards reception, raffle and silent auction, on-course contests, including a hole-in-one contest, and golf in a scramble format. There are also sponsorship opportunities that range from $200 to $1,800.
Register online at www.albany.edu/giving/footballgolf or print out a tournament brochure and mail it along with a check payable to The University at Albany Foundation UAB 226, 1,400 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12222.
UAlbany football season tickets are now on sale for the 2017 season. Prices start as low as $75. For more information, visit ualbanysports.com/tickets or call the UAlbany ticket office directly at 518-442-DANE.