INDIANAPOLIS — The lights are on. The stage is set. The visitors, tens of thousands of them, have packed the streets of the Circle City and are ready for football.
Players, coaches, marching bands and cheerleaders have traveled hundreds of miles from the deep South to compete in the College Football Playoff National Championship in Indianapolis as the University of Georgia Bulldogs prepare to challenge the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.
Out of many, one individual stands out.
The football success story of Emil Ekiyor Jr., offensive lineman for the Tide, began in Indianapolis — it’s fitting then to have it culminate here as well. The Cathedral High School graduate won a state championship in 2014, in the same building where he’ll compete for his second title.
But there’s more to Emil than meets the eye – in a picture Emil Ekiyor Sr. holds dear can be seen a father and son whose collective love of football shines through.
Ekiyor Sr. played football in college and in the NFL as well. The picture he clings to shows him wearing Atlanta Falcons gear with his son, Emil Ekiyor Jr. reaching for his father.
“I love, I love this picture. I love looking at it. I love the memories it brings,” Ekiyor Sr. said. “This is what it’s all about. Right? You wanna look back and just have great memories in life.”
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words but for Ekiyor Sr., this picture is priceless. The snapshots haven’t stopped for him and his wife Andrea, who together collect memories their family has created together – notably of Emil’s journey through football in multiple display cabinets in their family home in Indianapolis.
“It’s all about enjoying the moment right? Enjoying the experience and that’s why we have so much – so many pictures and trophies cause we’ve tried to just collect all those memories,” Ekiyor Sr. said. “Our job is to collect those memories as parents, take pictures and save them so he can look back at this day years from now and just smile about, enjoy what he’s done in his journey as well.”
Emil’s journey so far has been nothing short of remarkable.
“It’s almost surreal,” Emil said over a Zoom interview. “It’s something you would dream of as a kid growing up. You honestly couldn’t have written it any better.”
But it gets better still. Emil will be the only player from either school to compete for the 2022 title… in his hometown.
“When it was first announced that the National Championship would be in Indy, I started getting excited,” Emil said. “I thought, getting a chance to play in your hometown for a National Championship, that would be pretty awesome.”
A chance that was never a guarantee. An opportunity that Emil and his team have had to fight for every step of the way – not every picture is perfect.
“This guy’s gonna do his job. He’s gonna get his job done, he very rarely makes a mistake,” Rick Streiff, Emil’s former head football coach at Cathedral High School said. “It’s remarkable all he’s accomplished… he’s gonna play in a National Championship game in a place that he played in the state championship game as a freshman.”
Back in 2014, Emil proved himself worthy of a varsity spot as a freshman for the Irish. The team went on to win the state championship inside Lucas Oil Stadium, and there’s a picture to prove it.
“There’s my gentle giant,” Andrea Ekiyor said pointing to a picture of Emil with his team celebrating the 2014 win. “We are so proud of him… all he’s done to get to where he is today.”
As one coach helped prepare him for another… Emil recalls moments at Cathedral which helped prepare him for life as an Alabama football player.
“Those moments at Cathedral prepared me for Alabama, just being ready to come in,” Emil said. “Coach Streiff is a lot like, Coach Saban, he wants it perfect. You know? Do it again, until it’s perfect.”
From Cathedral High School to Alabama and back home again in Indiana, one family’s picture worth a thousand words today, can be summed up in only two.
“ROLL TIDE.” exclaimed the Ekiyor family.
You can watch the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Monday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Emil plays starting right guard for Alabama.