“He just became a dominant player for us,” Brown said. “Not having that scholarship may be one of the things that has driven him his whole athletic career.”

Finding his home

After being a consensus All-American his senior season, Ihedigbo was not drafted. He had to try out for the New York Jets before they signed him as a rookie free agent.

He spent four years with the Jets, playing in two AFC championship games, before signing with the New England Patriots in 2011 when the Jets chose to keep safeties Eric Smith and Brodney Pool over Ihedigbo.

He started 12 games for the Patriots and every playoff game during their run to the Super Bowl, but they released him after the 2012 preseason. He took that personally at first but is at peace now.

“I didn't feel at home there,” Ihedigbo said. “And they wanted to move on in a different direction. So it worked out perfectly. I'm here with the Ravens and I feel at home. I feel like this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.”

Ihedigbo never thought of quitting. He knew he had a lot of football left in him and that he would wind up somewhere.

The Ravens signed him in September 2012. He started three games for the injured Pollard. But his primary role was on special teams, which got him on the field for the final play of Super Bowl XLVII.

“Winning the Super Bowl kind of brought everything together for him, for me and for the family,” said Rose Ihedigbo, who recently published a book, “Sandals in the Snow,” about the family's journey. “Throughout his career, he has been underestimated and under-graded. He was not recruited. He was not drafted. And he continued on. Finally, getting that victory with the Ravens and him having that Super Bowl ring, it's amazing.”

This season, he has been a steady presence in a secondary that is still bonding.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees raves about how Ihedigbo explains concepts to his teammates in the meeting room. Elam, the team's starting free safety, says the wisdom Ihedigbo imparts is helping him find his way as a rookie. Cornerback Lardarius Webb calls him “the captain back there.”

“He's big, not just on the field,” Webb said. “He's big by being a leader, by being that voice, being that motivational guy. That's him.”

The football analytics website Pro Football Focus has graded Ihedigbo the highest among Ravens defenders through four games. He is tied for fourth on the team with 23 tackles, including two for loss. He has defended three passes and has one quarterback hit.

After years of being underestimated, Ihedigbo is now making it hard to overlook his impact. His next opportunity to prove his worth comes Sunday, when the Ravens (2-2) travel to play the Miami Dolphins (3-1).

“I'm a firm believer in my faith, and I believe that what God has set in stone, no man can change,” Ihedigbo said. “That's something that has been throughout my career. ... I knew what it was going to take to be a starter. … That was my goal. Earn that starting job so everyone understands why you're [playing].”

matt.vensel@baltsun.com

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