LINCOLN — I.M. Hipp was no different from any other 18-year-old out on his own for the first time, realizing that Lincoln was a long way from all that he knew back in Chapin, South Carolina.
And after Hipp finished his freshman football season at Nebraska, the brunt of his first Midwest winter chilled him to the bone.
“I came with a pair of jeans and some flannel shirts,” Hipp said, “and the first winter it was, like, 65 degrees below wind-chill.”
The I-back went to coach Tom Osborne and said he didn’t think he could take it. He was going back to South Carolina.
“He told me, ‘Think about it, Isaiah, because we love you, and I think you’re a great player,’” Hipp said. “I said, ‘Coach, I just don’t know.’ But I spoke to my great-grandmother, and she said, ‘God has put your feet on the path, and I don’t think you should change your mind. It would not work out to your benefit.’ And I stayed.”
Hipp remembers finding an appropriate coat at a department store on O Street. He let the rest take care of itself.
After redshirting in 1976, he became one of the most famous walk-ons in program history and the first Husker to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Even with turf toe limiting him as a senior in 1979, he would leave NU with a school-record 2,814 rushing yards — still good for No. 10 on the all-time list.
Hipp has lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for the last 17 years working in property management, maintaining apartment complexes for a real estate company. He took up golf about 10 years ago and is currently a 2 handicap, once firing a 68 at his home course (Heron Ridge Golf Club).
It has been a while since Isaiah Moses Walter Hipp has been back to Lincoln, but he still follows Husker football, and his oldest daughter, Jandra, is married to former NU and Green Bay Packers cornerback Erwin Swiney.
More on football, golf and the name that is hard to forget:
Q: What finally got you on the golf course when you were almost 50?
A: A contractor was on site doing some patio doors and windows and invited me out. My response was, “You lost your mind?” I was out there in my jeans and boots. Played 18. But just like everything else I’ve done, I put my mind to it and my body and my soul, and it came to fruition.
Q: Were you ever known as I.M. Hipp before coming to Nebraska?
A: It was always Isaiah. It was not until (former NU sports information director) Don Bryant came up with it.
Q: What do people call you now?
A: I.M. or Isaiah. Or Pops.
Q: How was a kid from a small town in South Carolina so interested in Husker football?
A: There was a rivalry within the neighborhood. Oklahoma was always No. 1 back then, and if not them it was Nebraska. And if not us, Michigan or Ohio State. It was on Thanksgiving Day (the 1971 NU-OU game), and everybody in the community was going, “Oklahoma, Oklahoma.” I said, “OK, I’ll go Nebraska then.” And we won, and from then that’s when I wanted to go there.
Q: You not only didn’t have a scholarship but hardly had the money to get here. How again did you make it?
A: There was a high school sweetheart, and I worked in a Manpower program at the time, and we came up with the money. A plane ticket at that time was $97. My great-granny gave all she could. We paid for the ticket, and I got on the plane, and it was only a one-way ticket. There was no option for me not to make it.
Q: What was the reception like when you showed up as mostly an unknown?
A: The letter came to me in Chapin and said meet in the auditorium on the second floor on the south side of the stadium, so just like everybody else that’s what I did. After everybody left, I was still there. Coach (Mike) Corgan happened to come back in and said, “How can I help you?” I said, “I’m here to play football.” He went out and came back in with Tom, and they said, “Sorry, we don’t have your name on the roster. What is your name?” When they asked me what position I was here to play and I said running back, they said they were going to try me at wingback. I said, “That’s not going to work.”
Q: You hung 254 yards on Lee Corso in your first career start (vs. Indiana in 1977). You think he still remembers that?
A: Ah, I’m sure he does. I went back to get inducted into my high school hall of fame, and there was a player named Jerry Bowers who played with me in high school (and at Indiana), and he remembered that. That was a segment of his speech, that he remembered the 254, but he made sure to point out that I had no touchdowns.
Q: How did it go splitting the workload with Rick Berns in 1977 and ’78?
A: It was great. At one time, we played or tinkered with the wishbone and, believe it or not, tinkered with the veer, too. We would practice with the wishbone but only did it in one series in the spring game in ’78.
Q: Would it have worked?
A: It would have worked perfectly. Tom Sorley and Jeff Quinn would have ran it perfectly. Tom had run the veer in high school, and Jeff ran the wishbone. Then Andra Franklin at fullback. He ran something like a 4.5 40. And with Rick and I … oh, Lordy.”
Q: Did you have any idea what turf toe was before 1979?
A: It was very confusing to me. In the Iowa game, I thought I stubbed my toe against somebody. Then, when I got back, the doc said it was a bruised sesamoid. The ligament under the big toe was inflamed. After that game, that Saturday night, my foot swelled up like a balloon. They tried to work with that special cap for my toe for me to push off, but the pain was excruciating, and I couldn’t. Then it developed into gout because of calcium buildup around the joint.
Q: What do you remember about visiting with Bear Bryant after the Nebraska-Alabama game in 1977?
A: I remember walking across the field, and I remember a fan of ours came out of the stands and took his hat. He said, in that deep Southern voice, “I.M., don’t worry about it. I got many of those. They come a dime a dozen.” Actually, he wanted to know how did I get past them and all the way to Nebraska. He said, “Did you ever think about coming to Alabama?” I said, “You all wrote me a letter wanting me to visit, but my heart was with Nebraska.”
Q: Were you interested in lifting before you got to Lincoln or did that all start with Boyd Epley?
A: I lifted in high school. I bought some free weights, the plastic ones with the cement in them, and built my own squat stand, built some other racks. Everything was homemade. In order to be the person I wanted to be physically, it was something that I always had to do.
Q: What was behind wanting to lift on game days?
A: I would work my legs. I felt that it would help to strengthen my knees and give me more endurance. I felt energetic. It’s almost like some people believe in getting an hour of rest before a game. Me, I believed in working out. As soon as we’d get to the stadium, I’d put my pants on, come in and have George (Sullivan) tape me, then I’m in the weight room.
Q: How did that go over?
A: They put a big sign up, a poster up, that said: “I.M., Stay Out of the Weightroom.” But I would still go, and George or Snitzy (Paul Schneider), one of the trainers, would find me and kick me out. Or Osborne would come in and catch me.
Q: Do your three daughters care about all these old stories and all of Dad’s accomplishments?
A: They do, but not so much, and I try not to lavish so much in it. But when we go out in public and somebody finds out who I am, and they want to start talking about it, then they hear it.
Q: Are you glad the Husker walk-on program is still alive and well?
A: I’m glad it’s back to where it should be because I understand that, I think it was Coach (Bill) Callahan, he wanted to do away with some of it. Without that tradition, a lot of players would have not had that opportunity. A lot of great players would not get that opportunity.