Interview: Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Enters Senior Bowl With Chip On His Shoulder

The chip on Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.’s shoulder is about as big as his massive quads. One of the shortest linebackers at the 2023 Senior Bowl, a lack of prototypical size weighing in at 5’10 has had him overlooked throughout his football career. But it hasn’t hampered his ability to impact a game and if you make plays, the NFL doesn’t care about your measurables.

High school attention matched his versatility. Two-way, two-star player passed over by the Power 5 conferences. Interest stemmed solely from the MAC and he committed to Miami (OH), the first team who made an offer.

“Miami was the first team to offer me,” he tells me in a Wednesday interview. “But then a lot more MAC schools offered me so I just went with the first one to gave me a chance.”

Pace played rotational snaps his first two years before starting and breaking out in 2021, racking up 125 tackles (13 tackles for a loss) with four sacks. But his most notable game with the RedHawks came during his freshman season. An incredible six-sack performance against Akron in a narrow 20-17 victory. That kind of day is unexpected enough but the story that surrounds out is even more improbable.

“That game, I got a chance. One of our players got hurt at d-end. So I got down on d-end.”

Here’s the sixth and final sack, helping to seal the win over the Zips.

With a chance to transfer after the 2021 season, Pace entered the portal and switched to Cincinnati. Not only was it the chance to be back in his hometown but it offered the opportunity for him to play with his brother Deshawn Pace, also a linebacker. Schematically, it was an adjustment.

“So only difference is run scheme. You have one gap at Miami. Cincinnati you had two gaps. You gotta play off the d-ends.”

The adjustments didn’t slow him down and his production only increased even against better competition. 136 tackles and his 20.5 for a loss ranked third-most across the FBS. He got back to rushing the quarterback, picking up nine sacks and found ways to take the ball away, forcing a pair of fumbles.

Now he’s in Mobile – personally getting the call from Executive Director Jim Nagy – and on the big stage with the rest of college football, and looking to prove all those who doubted him along his journey wrong.

“Size don’t matter. Everybody out here is taller than me. I’m probably the shortest linebacker. That’s that chip that I got. He’s never going nowhere. It’s gonna be on my heart the whole time.”

He likens his game to another undersized Cincinnati linebacker, the Tennessee Titans’ David Long, who measured in under six-foot for the 2019 NFL Combine but started 12 games this past season. A free-agent to be, maybe Long will be a Steeler. So could Pace. They don’t come from the conventional mold but new assistant GM Andy Weidl has always warned against focusing on the “cookie cutter” type of player. It’s all about the tape, all about the production, and while Pace is short, he certainly isn’t small. He’ll let the NFL know that soon enough.

You can check out our full draft profile on Pace below.

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