Written by Francis Okupa, KweséESPN
Born and raised in Houston to Nigerian parents, George Iloka had to talk his way into playing American football as a kid, but once he convinced his mom, he made the most of a college career at Boise State, and onwards to Cincinnati. George Iloka attended Kempner High School in Sugar Land, Texas.
Now one of the premier safeties in the league, Iloka talks to KweséESPN about the Bengals’ mixed season (3-4), his favourite players to watch, his time at school in South east Nigeria, and his melodic proposal to his fiancee. George Iloka signed a a five-year with Cincinnati Bengals, $30 million deal in 2016 that will pay him more than $19 million across three seasons.
Q: How did you get started playing football?
Iloka: I just liked it growing up. I saw it on TV and I asked my parents, ‘Can I play?’ They said no at first. My mom… because she was scared. I eventually convinced her and the rest is history.
Q: What was your favourite team as a kid?
Iloka: [Houston] Oilers. Until they switched [Moved to Tennessee]. Once they left I became a ‘players’ kind of guy.
Q: Who were your favourite players to watch?
Iloka: Barry Sanders, Sean Taylor, Ed Reed… I liked Troy Polamalu. Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Mario Williams. They were the greats, so [as a safety] you got to watch the film and see what things you can pick up, learn from them and see if you can put into your game.
Q: Tell us about your background. Where in Nigeria are your parents from?
Iloka: My dad is from Olo [outside of Enugu] and my mom is from Enugu. I lived there for six months. I went to school there, with my sister, for six months. It was in Enugu, a boarding school.
Q: When was the last time you went back?
Iloka: When I left [school]. I got sick, that’s why I left early. I was supposed to be there for a year or two but I got sick three times.
Q: Do you speak Igbo?
Iloka: I understand and speak a little bit. I know the basics but I can’t understand it all.
Q: Do you have a go-to Nigerian food that you have whenever your mom is around?
Iloka: Pepper soup.