Ifeanyi Maijeh couldn’t have entered last season with a lower profile.
As a redshirt freshman in 2018, the Temple defensive tackle had seven tackles in eight games. Nothing suggested that he would become among the best defensive linemen in the American Athletic Conference. But that is exactly what happened when he earned first-team all-conference honors.
Among his best games was against former Temple coach Geoff Collins and Georgia Tech. Maijeh had five tackles, including two for losses, and one sack in a 24-2 win. He also had his first career forced fumble along with a quarterback hurry.
Now a redshirt junior, was Maijeh surprised by his rapid development last season?
“To be honest, not really, because from my freshman year, I was playing behind Michael Dogbe and Jullian Taylor, and I wasn’t playing, but I was getting experience,” Maijeh said Friday.
Taylor and Dogbe went on to be NFL draft choices. Taylor was a seventh-round pick by San Francisco in 2018 and Dogbe was a seventh-round selection by Arizona in 2019.
Even when he wasn’t playing, Maijeh was encouraged.
“In practice, I was playing against the No. 1 offense and I was winning reps and I knew that I had the talent,' he said. “I just needed some exposure or some playing time, so once I got on the field, it all clicked together and I started making plays.”
Did he ever.
The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Maijeh had 52 tackles, including 10 tackles for losses, and 6.5 sacks, great production for an interior lineman.
Now he won’t go into the season as an unknown commodity. In fact, Maijeh is a viable All-America candidate, something he embraces.
“That’s definitely one of my goals this year,” he said. “I feel like I have what it takes. I just got to keep working.”
Maijeh is on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award, the Nagurski Trophy, and the Outland Trophy.
One of the keys for him is to enter Temple’s opener Oct. 10 at Navy fully healthy. Through preseason practices, the coaches have said Maijeh was a little banged up. He acknowledged that, saying he has been bothered by a groin injury.
“As we are coming toward [the opener], I am getting better and better every day. That groin has been lingering, but I’ve been feeling healthy. I had a full padded practice for three days in a row,” he said. “So I’m getting back to my full strength.”
He just isn’t quite there yet.
“I wouldn’t say 100 percent right now, but I definitely will be ready to go by game day, most definitely," he said.
That would be welcome news because defensive tackle is among Temple’s strongest positions. Maijeh and graduate student Dan Archibong could be among the top defensive tackle tandems in the AAC, if not beyond.
Maijeh says it is too early to say whether he would leave after this season for the NFL. That also depends on whether he plays his way into a draftable position.
“It would be a great opportunity for me to go to the draft, but if not, and I feel like I haven’t had my best performance, then I can look at other options as well,” he said. “So it’s too early to say.”
All he is worried about is being ready to face Navy’s triple-option offense in the opener. If Maijeh makes the same progress this season that he made a year ago, then those other options could very well be there.