TAMPA — Throughout his football career, even though he played a different position in a different part of the country a full generation later, Godwin Igwebuike has grown accustomed to fans asking him: "Are you related to Donald Igwebuike?"
He is proud to answer that, yes, Donald is his father, Leo's, first cousin. And never more than now, as the former Northwestern safety begins his NFL career as an undrafted rookie with the same Bucs team that Donald kicked for from 1985-89.
"To follow in those same footsteps, going back to Tampa, repping not only the same lineage but having the same last name and the same Igbwebuike heritage, it's the icing on the cake, the cherry on top," said Igwebuike (pronounced ig-way-byoo-kay) who grew up in Ohio. "It means a lot to me to try to have a successful career as he did and have the Igwebuike name continue to reign in that area."
And up in Silver Spring, Md., Donald, now 57, said he would have been thrilled to see Godwin play anywhere in the NFL, but is thrilled to see him with his old team.
"He's going to a great organization, and the fans, the supporters, you cannot ask for anything better than that," said the Nigerian-born Igwebuike, himself a cousin of former Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.
The Bucs play in a different stadium, in a different division, wearing different uniforms from the old-school orange that Donald knew in Tampa. He was part of the Bucs' worst struggles — in his five seasons, they went a combined 18-61.
Igwebuike works in the home health care business but still has football in his life — his son, Donald Jr., is a rising high school senior who plays safety, like his cousin. Igwebuike has not been to a Bucs game in the 29 years since he last played for them but likes how that could change this fall.
"Since he is in Tampa, that would be a very good reason to come back to Tampa and watch him play," Donald said. "I miss Tampa."
Godwin Igwebuike had expected to be a draft pick — he was a four-year starter at Northwestern, getting three interceptions in his first career start as a redshirt freshman against Wisconsin. After the disappointment of not being drafted, the interest he got after the draft was "overwhelming," with a barrage of calls and texts from teams, and the Bucs were "heavily invested" in bringing him in.
Like Donald, Godwin's history in Tampa isn't necessarily a winning one — Northwestern played in the Outback Bowl two years ago, losing 45-6 to Tennessee. But he loved the atmosphere, and the prospect of playing in warm weather is also a plus after enough winters in Illinois.
"The experience there was awesome — the stadium was dope," said Godwin, who graduated from Northwestern with a degree in learning and organizational change.
Igwebuike has the flexibility to play both safety positions and understands the importance of contributing on special teams as a young NFL backup. He might have to beat out fourth-round pick Jordan Whitehead of Pittsburgh to get the last safety spot behind returning players Justin Evans, Chris Conte and Keith Tandy. He's ready to make a name for himself with the Bucs.
"There's an opportunity to go there and make some noise," he said. "I'm extremely excited to get my foot in the door and extremely grateful for the opportunity to be a Buccaneer."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.