Just after Robinson's football team fell to Centreville in the 2000 Northern Region championship, head coach Mark Bendorf sat down next to his star running back in the locker room. Bendorf watched as Mike Imoh looked around the locker room at the forty seniors that had just played their last high school football game — a 16-13 loss.
"He felt for them because they weren’t going to get a chance to win [the state tournament]," said Bendorf.
The junior running back had just finished a season in which he ran for 1,758 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Rams had finished the season with a record of 11-1 and had won the Patriot District title. But they failed to win the region and, more importantly, were not going to play in the state tournament.
"[Centreville] completely shut me down and that was the first time that I ever had to deal with that," said Imoh of the Wildcats’ swarming defense. "I took it personally. It was frustrating."
Imoh carried that loss with him throughout the offseason and into every game the following year.
"I came back strong in the weight room and on the track," he said. "I think that [the loss] got me to were I am right now."
That following year, Imoh took leadership of a much younger and inexperienced team.
"We had to break in a lot of new players because of the volume of seniors that we lost," said Bendorf. "Mike was a key returning starter."
MANY BELIEVED that the Rams blew their chance at a state championship with the loss to Centreville, but Imoh had other plans for his young team.
"I was not going to let us lose. It was as simple as that," he said.
Imoh ran for 2,077 yards with a staggering 28 touchdowns and led the Rams to another Patriot District title and another meeting with Centreville in the regional championship.
"He was so determined and fueled by the way his junior season ended and those forty seniors. I think that it went a long way in carrying us," said Bendorf.
It was Imoh’s leadership that helped the Rams beat Centreville 27-17. During halftime, Imoh began cramping up due to dehydration and was unable to get back into the game. He settled for leading from the sidelines.
"His leadership to get us there was critical," said Bendorf.
When Imoh got back onto the field for the state semifinal game and championship game, he made sure that the Rams didn’t let this opportunity pass them by.
In the championship game against Thomas Dale, Imoh ran for 222 yards, had 59 receiving yards and scored four touchdowns as the Rams rolled 40-7.
IMOH’S SUCCESS in high school led to many offers from Division I colleges. Tennessee, Pittsburg, Wake Forest, Penn State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech all showed interest in him. He chose Virginia Tech for a very simple reason.
"Virginia Tech was the first team to offer me anything," he said. "They were the first team to show some interest."
Many schools were worried that the 5-foot 7-inch Imoh was too small to be a tailback at the college level. They told him that he had to switch positions.
"I’m sitting here after all that I’ve accomplished and it was really frustrating," said Imoh. "Virginia Tech showed interest and they’re a powerhouse school, so I went with them."
Imoh joined the Virginia Tech team as a true freshman and played in five games.
"They wanted to get me on the field right away," said Imoh. "So they played me as a true freshman and had me be a receiver and running back." In his first game against Arkansas State, Imoh caught four passes for 28 yards and recorded a touchdown.
DURING HIS sophomore year with the Hokies, Imoh settled into the role of kickoff return man. He averaged 30.5 yards per return and became the first Hokie to return a kickoff for a touchdown since 1992 with a 91-yard return against the University of Connecticut. Imoh played at wide receiver also, catching nine passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns.
It was in Imoh’s junior year when he was given his chance to shine.
He started nine games for Virginia Tech and recorded 720 yards and six touchdowns. During his junior year, he also set the single-game rushing record for the Hokies with a 243-yard day against North Carolina.
"I kind of went into the zone. It felt like I was in high school all over again," he said. "Everything was clicking. The line was blocking. It felt like I was just stepping over everybody. It was crazy."
Injuries hampered his final season with the Hokies but he was still able to accumulate 419 yards and four touchdowns.
RECENTLY, IMOH attended a Washington Redskins mini-camp and is trying to keep his options open for his future in football. One thing he knows for sure is that he wants to open up a training facility for high school athletes in the Northern Virginia area to help them prepare for playing at the college level.
"I want to try to instill what I’ve learned from football and put it back into the community," he said. "I’ve been playing sports for 15 years now and I think that it’s time for me to give back."
Mike Imo is 38 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.