Not all things have come naturally to Emmanuel Daigbe.
A gifted athlete, Daigbe is difficult to stop in the open field as a big-target wide receiver. He is overpowering on the wrestling mat.
But the classroom has proven to be his biggest challenge. Books, he understands, can be more difficult to tackle than opponents.
Undaunted, the Kent-Meridian High School star athlete went to work, found the necessary help and overcame his academic struggles to earn a scholarship and a chance to play college football, a childhood dream.
The 6-foot, 192-pound senior wide receiver – one of the top recruits in the region – made it official Friday morning, signing a national letter of intent to attend Central Washington University this fall.
Daigbe, a humble and soft-spoken 18-year-old, was front and center at the school library for his signing party.
“I did it. I’m proud of myself for pushing through it,” Daigbe said after receiving congratulatory hugs and well wishes from coaches, teachers and classmates. “I got a great opportunity. I might as well take it and make the best of it.”
Daigbe has come so far, so quickly, following a long and different road.
Born in the West African country of Liberia, Daigbe immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 4.
From his parents, Daigbe learned the importance of persistence and hard work. Amos and Martha Daigbe work long hours as janitors to provide for their large family. Daigbe, the oldest of three boys, has four sisters.
That approach has made a difference for Daigbe. It has helped in the classroom where he had to learn English and grasp the fundamentals of math and other subjects from the ground up through special education.
Daigbe makes it a point to arrive early, even stay late, in the classroom to receive one-on-one attention from his teachers.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but I need to understand what I have learned,” Daigbe said without hesitation. “School was hard for me but – with my coaches and my support system – I just kept on and pushed through it. I got the help that I needed, and it finally paid off.”
By signing with CWU, Daigbe will be the first in his family to go to a four-year college.
Daigbe understands he has more work to do. After graduation this spring, Daigbe is required to complete summer school classes to qualify for Central.
“We are here to make that happen for him academically,” said CWU coach Ian Shoemaker. “We are excited to have Emmanuel with us.”
Daigbe will join Quincy Carter, a K-M graduate who will be a sophomore running back at Central. The Wildcats also signed Isaiah Williams, a defensive back and kick returner from Kentwood.
Daigbe attracted interest from several Division I schools, including Washington, Washington State, Boise State, Eastern Washington, Portland State and Idaho. He was an all-state and All-South Puget Sound League performer on both sides of the ball.
“A lot of Pac-12 schools were looking at me but since they found out I wasn’t eligible, they all backed off,” Daigbe said. “But Central came through. I’m taking their offer. It’s a great opportunity to play and get a good education.”
Kent-Meridian coach Brett Allen is proud of what Daigbe has achieved. Physical and explosive with good speed, Daigbe was a matchup problem for high school defenses, a “relentless beast” on the field, as Allen described.
“A lot of people might see it as a disappointment,” Allen said of Daigbe signing with the Division II Wildcats. “Really, everyone knows he still is a D-I kid. … In fact, the Central coaches, they know they are getting a steal.
“We say this all the time and other coaches around the league have said, ‘He’s got an NFL body right now,’ ” Allen added. “He’s tough to bring down, tough to put (your) hands on. Even when he’s double- or triple-teamed, guys don’t push him around much. He does the pushing. He has an incredible work ethic and incredible desire, so that translates well to the field.”
And onto the mat.
This weekend, Daigbe takes his 25-0 record into regionals as he pursues a state berth in the 195-pound class. He went 30-0 and captured the 182-pound state title a year ago.
Daigbe will leave his legacy at the school, Allen insisted.
“He’s definitely one of those once-in-a-career kind of kids just because of his story, just because of how hard he works and just because of his raw talent,” he said.