- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2014

Edith Ihenacho never wanted her sons to play football. It was a violent game, she believed. Too violent. And surely her boys would get hurt.

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For a while, Duke Ihenacho respected his mother’s wishes. He and his older brother, Carl, funneled their athletic abilities into basketball. They played flag or two-hand-touch football with friends and relatives but avoided the organized, full-contact version of the sport.

That is, until Duke decided otherwise.

Before his junior year at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, Duke’s thinking changed. Persuaded by an assistant coach and gym teacher, Steve Garcia, he decided to try out for the football team. His brother, a senior at the time, followed suit.

Denver Broncos safety Duke Ihenacho (33) celebrates his tackle of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones (12) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos safety Duke Ihenacho (33) celebrates his tackle of Baltimore Ravens ... more >

“Once you do it, she can’t tell you not to,” Duke said Monday, flashing a grin. “You know what I mean?”

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Ihenacho did not deliver a hit on the football field until he was 16 years old. Now, he does it professionally and, as of Sunday, for the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins claimed Ihenacho on waivers after he was released by Denver, where he started 17 games at strong safety last season, including a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Ihenacho could start in place of suspended veteran Brandon Meriweather in Sunday’s season-opener against the Houston Texans. At the very least, he will get playing time on special teams.

No matter what his role, Ihenacho said he will bring one strength to the field on every play.

“I’m physical,” he said. “It’s pretty simple.”

It’s also pretty strange, considering the circumstances.

When Duke and his brother first joined the high school football team, they didn’t know what it felt like to get hit. Perhaps more importantly, they didn’t know how to properly deliver a hit, either.

“That was the toughest transition,” Carl Ihenacho said. “We kind of picked up things through drills and things like that. Our coaches in high school really did a good job of preparing us, but also we were just kind of fast learners.”

Junipero Serra coach Scott Altenberg said he and his staff had to occasionally give the brothers some additional instruction. But in a way, their inexperience almost made them easier players to teach.

“We had a kid who was a complete sponge,” Altenberg said of Duke. “He didn’t have all the Pop Warner stuff and all the bad habits to weed through. He had no habits. He was a blank canvas.”

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