Josh Imatorbhebhe pushes himself to succeed in everything that he does.
From the football field to his pursuit of a Master’s degree, the Illinois wide receiver has worked incredibly hard to get to where he is today, and as he fights towards his dream of playing in the NFL, he isn’t going to stop now.
Imatorbhebhe recently spoke exclusively with Draft Wire about his pre-draft process, his experience at the Hula Bowl, how he maintains his insane athletic ability, and much more.
DW: You had the opportunity to go down to Hawaii for the Hula Bowl recently. What was that experience like for you?
JI: I thought it was awesome, honestly. I was blown away. It was very well-ran, and they had what they called Hawaiian royalty, so a lot of the people from Hawaii who have either went to the NFL or were coaches or were big in the football world, coaching and running the event. It was really cool to experience that level of professionalism. They were extremely hospitable. We stayed at an extremely nice resort, they fed us pretty well. It was cool to network with some of the guys I’m sure I’ll be seeing in the future.
DW: I know you’re still warm training out of Arizona, but being in Hawaii this time of year must’ve been incredible, right?
JI: Yeah. It was just really relaxing. Even though I’m in Arizona, it’s really kind of like business. I’m not going out and enjoying myself on the weekends for the most part. I’m in a nice area, but I’m not necessarily experiencing as much as I would like to, but [Hawaii] was really relaxing. After we had our practice and we met with teams, we had the rest of the day to ourselves from 3 o’clock onward, so we’d go to the beach. If you wanted to, you could go hiking, you could get some food at a nice restaurant. Considering how it was these last six months during the season for a lot of us, how we were confined to our rooms and had to take COVID-testing protocol, it was a really good breath of fresh air, if you will.
DW: How have the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 affected your pre-draft process?
JI: It’s not really affecting me, per se, because I feel like the preparation would be the same, and we have a lot of protocols at XOS, the place that I’m training at right now, so I feel like everything is the same. I feel like it more so affected my season than anything else, which is the most important part, just because I don’t really feel like we got enough preparation for our games, if you will. When we started our season, as well, our starting quarterback [Brandon Peters] got COVID after the first game. We lost to Wisconsin, and we’re already trying to get the momentum and mojo back from that, and then you got COVID after that game. Big Ten protocol is, you’re out for three weeks after you get COVID, so we didn’t have our starting quarterback for games two, three, and four. And then it’s just like, dang. Those first four games of the season are important because you can either create momentum or lose momentum, and that kind of decides how the rest of the season will go.
We were playing with our second-string quarterback for that first game, and he ended up twisting his ankle on the second drive of the game versus Purdue, then we had our third-string quarterback in, and that’s who we were playing with. He played okay, but I feel like our offensive coordinator shied away from the passing game a little bit because he wasn’t necessarily as comfortable with it. My stats went down, and all these things, so it definitely affected the season I was looking to have, playing through COVID.
DW: You went viral a few years ago with a 47.1-inch vertical jump coming out of high school. That was a couple of years ago, so I have to ask: Do you know roughly what your vertical is right now?
JI: With that same jump test – I’ve gained roughly 15 pounds since then – I think I’m probably at, I don’t know. 44 [inches]? I haven’t been training for it, and I’m 218 [pounds], as opposed to 202. I think I can get a little bit closer to that.
DW: Keep in mind the Combine record is 46 inches, so even with that added muscle, you’re still right in that all-time range.
JI: Yeah, that would be awesome. That would be awesome.
DW: You’re a bigger guy for a receiver, but you’re also a really good athlete. How do you manage to keep that combination of strength and speed without sacrificing one or the other?
JI: I just play, and I train explosively. That’s the only thing there is to it; I feel like it’s more so just a central nervous system thing than it is how you look. Like, there’s Devin White. Devin White is huge. He played for LSU, now he plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I met him when I was at The Opening, and he ran a 4.4 40 at his Combine. So he has an active central nervous system; he’s able to move twitchily. It doesn’t necessarily matter how big he is, it just matters how quickly he’s able to move, how quickly his central nervous system is able to fire.
Same thing for [Steelers linebacker] Devin Bush, who went to Michigan. Same thing: explosive athlete, and it has more to do with your central nervous system than it has to do with your size. [Titans wide receiver] A.J. Brown, same thing. Twitchy guy, but he’s big. It’s more so that than anything else.
DW: Lovie Smith, your head coach at Illinois, recently signed on to become the defensive coordinator for the Texans. What’s Houston getting when they’re hiring Lovie?
JI: I was talking with my mom about it – I actually just talked to Coach Lovie [after he got hired], I was texting him – I think he’ll be the best defensive coordinator in football, truly. If you look at his defenses and their production, whether it’s fumble recoveries, interceptions, whatever. He has done such a great job. Since he was with the Bears, when he was with the Bucs, even at Illinois – even though the team wasn’t necessarily winning, our defenses always had production. Now that he’s able to focus on defense, honestly, I think he’ll be the best defensive coordinator in the game. I really do, and I can’t wait for everybody else to see that, too.
DW: You recently got your Master’s degree at Illinois’ prestigious business school. How important is it to invest in yourself, both in and out of football?
JI: I feel like you’d be a fool to not just take advantage of the opportunities that are there at the school. If you go to a school that has good academics, you want to get a good degree, you don’t want to get a BS degree. You want to get something that’s able to add value, that way you didn’t waste time. When your football career is over, you give yourself more options, as opposed to, ‘All right, I’m done with football, now I have to stay around football and be a coach or train little kids.’ Like, no. If I want to be that, I can, but if not, I can enter into marketing. I can enter into finance, I can enter into operations, because I have that knowledge, and I have that background.
I think it’s important just because it gives you more options in the future. Nobody knows tomorrow, and if anything, we’ve learned that from this year. You need to have a plan and have options in case things fall through.
DW: Ideally, you’ll have a long and successful NFL career. After that, are there any specific roles within business you’d be interested in down the line?
JI: Yeah, I’m interested in a lot of things. I definitely would love to get my hand in a couple of businesses and invest, and be on the management side of businesses, whether it’s franchising a couple of restaurants, investing in a couple of start-up companies, for real estate: just expanding my net worth, just dabbling in a couple things I feel like I’m interested in. Nothing necessarily specific, but I do want to be on the management side of businesses.
DW: What do you think is the most important trait for a wide receiver to have?
JI: Just focus, straight up. There’s a lot of pressure, externally and internally. Internally, you want to make plays, and externally, there’s a defense. There’s a cornerback or a safety you’re going against, so [be] able to just be in the moment and get into a flow, and your natural ability will be able to come out. Once you look around, you’re like, “Aw, man, the lights,” or, “Man, this is a big opportunity,” or, “Oh, the ball’s in the air,” and you get in that fight-or-flight moment and you choose flight, then it’s easy to snowball, and you’ll start to lose a lot of your game and how you play. Just being locked in the moment, having a next-play mentality, not getting too high in the highs or too low in the lows, and staying consistent and steadfast.
Consistency, really, is the answer, but your focus enables you to be consistent. The more consistent you are, the more productive you’ll be. The more inconsistent you are, the more productive, and the more unproductive. It’s hard, because everything needs to be in rhythm in order for the offense and the team to do well. I’d just say focus and consistency are the most important things for a receiver, and that comes from practice, in terms of running routes, catching balls. It’s just like the formula in order to produce a good receiver.
DW: There’s a lot that goes into the wide receiver position. What are some of the things that go through your head as you make your first step off the snap?
JI: It depends, exactly. The coverage is obviously important, because that tells me how much time I have at the line, if I’m [going against] press coverage, I know that in order to get separation, I can’t necessarily rush too much at the line because I’m trying to get separation, so you have to be patient with your release. If it’s off coverage, you want to push him as much as you can and get the DB’s hips turning. But yeah, you’re looking at the coverage, and you’re seeing the leverage that the DB has, feeling where he’s at, and then you’re just reacting from there. But you try to keep it at a minimum; you don’t want to be thinking about too many things. You just want to be focusing on a couple of things. That way, it’s easier to execute.
DW: Who are some of the top defensive backs you’ve gone up against at the collegiate level, both while you were at Illinois and USC?
JI: I’ve gone up against Adoree’ Jackson my freshman year when I was at USC. Jack Jones, extremely talented and athletic, he transferred to Arizona State. While I was at Illinois, the two better DBs I went up against, I’m actually training with them right now in Phoenix. Ambry Thomas from Michigan and Greg Newsome from Northwestern, two extremely talented and extremely technical DBs, and I feel like we had very good matchups in both of their games. Those are two guys that I respect a lot.
DW: How do you like to spend your free time outside of football?
JI: That’s a very, very good question (laughs). I like to read my Bible. I listen to sermons. I’ll talk on the phone with my brother, my mom. I’m a really simple guy. I don’t feel like I really need a lot to make me happy, but I am looking for more things to do. I need to fill up my time better with hobbies and things that I enjoy, but nothing crazy.
DW: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?
JI: Someone who’s going to give everything they have in everything that they do, in any role you put him in, he’s going to make sure that he gets the most value out of, and someone that’s extremely competitive and that won’t ever give up. Ever. I’ve had so many opportunities to give up in this process. It’s been such a grind, and I had a lot of disappointments and whatnot, but I never gave up. After I was at USC and put my name in the transfer portal, going through a lot of the struggles there, and not allowing my dream to die. I was in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world. Why would you want to leave there and going to Champaign, Illinois? It’s just because my dream was still inside me, and I wasn’t going to let it die. I’ll find a way. I’ll find a way to do whatever needs to be done of me and succeed and come out on top in the end.