After suffering a loss in his debut as head coach of Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ben Palmer knew his game plan needed to shift towards the young, raw talent of Jacob Kibodi.
A week later and a win richer, Palmer and his football team had a new cornerstone.
“In my first win, he just took the load and kind of took over as the workhorse of the offense,” Palmer said of Kibodi, who also saw action on defense and special teams as he played almost every play of the game.
While his services now will only be needed on offense, No. 16 Texas A&M also might begin leaning on Kibodi. The redshirt sophomore is the Aggies’ most veteran running back after starter Jashaun Corbin suffered a season-ending injury last week in the 24-10 loss at No. 1 Clemson.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Kibodi has been mostly under the radar during his first two years at A&M. Overall, he’s had just 14 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown with a notable 101-yard performance against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2017.
Quiet until called upon has been part of Kibodi’s M.O., but Palmer says he doesn’t lack ambition.
“Ultimately, what my favorite thing about Jacob is is his work ethic,” Palmer said. “He was like a lot of kids. Their first couple of years in high school they think, ‘I’m a good athlete. I’m going to get a scholarship.’”
Before Palmer arrived at Christian Life Academy (now named The Church Academy), Kibodi was a student-athlete looking for direction on and off the football field. With a little help from Palmer, Kibodi took control of his studies, utilizing summer school to turn Ds into As. During that time, he worked out in the early hours of the morning to help keep his focus on academics.
“The dude busted his butt like I’ve never seen,” Palmer said.
When the season began, Kibodi did much more than dominate that second game of the season — though he did that, too. He had four touchdowns, an interception and a fumble recovery in that one, then ran for three touchdowns on just four carries the following game. Over his senior season, Kibodi rushed for 1,208 yards and 12 touchdowns on 141 carries, while again playing free safety and special teams.
Much like the beginning of his high school football career, his recruiting started slowly.
“He’s not going to go in and talk about himself,” Palmer said. “He’s not going to put himself out there. He doesn’t seem to like the spotlight a whole lot, whereas a lot of guys eat up the recruiting process. He just said, ‘I’m going to keep working, and if my opportunity comes, if I’m ready for it, I’m going to take advantage of it.’”
The opportunity came during a camp at Tulane attended by A&M coaches. After seeing his talent, A&M coaches called Palmer wanting to know more about this hidden gem.
Kibodi committed to A&M in October 2016, and he took just one official recruiting visit: to A&M.
Since then, Kibodi has remained committed to the Aggies, despite seeing little playing time. Palmer says he’s remained positive while waiting for his opportunity.
With that optimistic attitude comes a Twitter feed full of positive affirmations. On April 23, Kibodi tweeted, “Gotta be able to see the vision even when nobody else does.”
Through all of that, he’s resisted the temptation to transfer to a school where he could see more playing time or be closer to home, a point of pride for Palmer, who points to “the fact that he’s stayed there this whole time and he’s a team guy first.”
Kibodi’s attitude is, “‘I’m just going to keep working and put my head down and keeping doing what I got to do and if I get my opportunity I get it. If I don’t, I got a good education out of it,’” Palmer said.
He’s carried that positivity into his role as a veteran voice in the running back room, now surrounded by two freshman and a sophomore: Isaiah Spiller, Deneric Prince and Cordarrian Richardson.
“He’s always a guy who has been pretty consistent but always waited his turn,” quarterback Kellen Mond said. “I know he’s a talented guy. We’re going to depend on him with Jashaun going down.”
Kibodi had an impressive showing in the Aggies’ Maroon & White Game this spring, tallying 106 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
It could be the precursor to that chance he’s been waiting for since arriving in College Station beginning with the Lamar game at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m going to be happy for him,” Palmer said. “He’s earned it. That’s just the type of kid he is. He stays and works. He doesn’t run away from adversity. He doesn’t run away from hard times. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to help his team. To see that pay off for him, I’m going to be really excited for him.”