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Memphis' Martin Ifedi blossoms into leader in sacks

Jerome Miron / USA Today Sports
Memphis defensive end Matin Ifedi is tied for the national lead in sacks this season with 5.5.

One of the smartest things Justin Fuente has done as coach at Memphis is to move Martin Ifedi from defensive tackle to defensive end. Ifedi has turned into one of the best pass-rushers in college football.

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Fuente was hired by Memphis following the 2011 season, the Tigers' fourth losing season in a row and their 13th in 17 years. Fuente had been co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at TCU, and one of his first moves was to hire Barry Odom as defensive coordinator. Odom had been secondary coach at Missouri.

Ifedi (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) was moved from tackle to end during spring practice in 2012 and blossomed at his new position. He led the Tigers with 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss despite suffering a sprained ankle in the opener that bothered him for a few weeks. Consistency was an issue -- not surprising, considering the position change. Still, his performance helped the Tigers rack up 29 sacks, more than doubling their total of 14 from 2011.

Ifedi is off to a great start in 2013. He has 5.5 sacks, tied for the national lead, and nine tackles for loss, tied for second nationally. Ifedi, who has gained more than 30 pounds since signing with the Tigers in 2010, is coming off the best game of his career. He had 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in last weekend's shellacking of Arkansas State. He has at least one sack in each game this season.

"I just know that every time I looked up, 97 was in the backfield," Fuente said, referring to Ifedi's number and his performance against Arkansas State. "He has really played well thus far. . . . He's a smart, heady player and seems to get back there a lot."

Ifedi is an athletic end, befitting a guy who thought his future was in basketball until he was a sophomore in high school. He runs well, with his fastest 40-yard dash clocked at 4.76 seconds; plays with intensity; and has long arms.

Coming out of high school in Houston, Ifedi wasn't considered even a top-300 player in Texas, and his only other FBS offer came from New Mexico State. He also considered two FCS schools.

Ifedi certainly wouldn't mind following the same path as former Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who was chosen 11th overall by Kansas City in the 2012 draft. Poe, who already has 3.5 sacks for the Chiefs this season, often lined up next to Ifedi in 2011.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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