Ibieta family balances Tulane, LSU loyalties

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Justin Ibieta

Football weekends can be complicated for the Ibieta family.

Middle child Justin is a quarterback at Tulane and youngest child Jake is a defensive end at LSU.

So attending both sons’ games can be difficult and often times impossible – as it is this Saturday when the Green Wave host Nicholls, the Tigers host Arkansas and both games kick off at 6 p.m.

But balancing loyalties between Tulane and LSU has always been a part of the relationship between Julie Ibieta – a former LSU volleyball player and current Country Day volleyball coach – and her husband – former Tulane baseball player Juan Ibieta.

“We’ve been a house divided our entire relationship,” Julie said.

Juan said the couple is “trying to make all the games,” but they have a simple and logical approach to choosing when conflicts do arise – pick the game in which one son is more likely to play than the other is.

Last season, that meant watching Jake during his senior season at Country Day high school, though the conflicts were few because the Cajuns rarely played on Saturday.

This season it means watching Justin because as a fourth-year redshirt sophomore he has a better chance of playing than Jake has as a freshman walk-on.

“Justin is higher up on the totem pole,” Jake said. “If one of us gets in (the parents) want to be there, which I completely understand.”

But an Ibieta will be in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night just in case Jake gets in. Jenna, the eldest of the three siblings is the volleyball coach at Sacred Heart Grand Coteau and her team is competing in a tournament at Woodlawn in Baton Rouge on Friday night and Saturday morning, leaving her free to watch Jake’s team.

As a walk-on, Jake doesn’t travel with LSU, which has enabled him to watch two of Justin’s games in person this season. When the Tigers were in Orlando to open the season against Florida State on Labor Day weekend, Jake and Jenna were able to join their parents for what Jenna called “a whole family reunion” for the Green Wave’s season opener against South Alabama in Yulman Stadium.

A week later – on Juan’s birthday – he and Julie watched Justin get in for one play of Tulane’s game against Ole Miss in the afternoon at Yulman Stadium, then hopped on a bus to catch the second half of the Tigers’ game against Grambling in Tiger Stadium.

As LSU wrapped up a 72-10 rout, Jake went into the game for the final three plays and made a tackle on the final play.

“That was my birthday present,” Juan said with a big smile.

“That the cherry on the top of his day,” Jake said proudly.

Last Saturday, the Tigers played at Mississippi State, freeing Jake and a buddy from LSU to drive to Hattiesburg and watch the Green Wave play Southern Miss.

“The games I can make,” Jake said, “I try to.”

Juan said the family’s “own little internal rivalry” is good natured “because we’ve always loved both schools.”

But he and Julie – who grew up “loving LSU” even though her parents were Tulane fans – agreed that her affinity for his alma mater was a little later in arriving than his affinity for her alma mater.

The couple became friends while growing up in St. Bernard Parish. They graduated the same year – Juan from Jesuit and Julie from Seton – and they both enrolled at LSU in 1988. They hung out with the same group of friends and eventually started dating each other.

Juan still had the itch to play baseball, but Skip Bertman was in the midst of turning the LSU program into a national power and Juan knew that making the Tigers “loaded” team would be “a daunting task.”

He was still young enough to play Legion baseball after his freshman year in college. Tulane was in search of pitching help and offered him an opportunity to play “and I couldn’t pass it up.”

So Juan transferred to Tulane and the romance continued to blossom even though the student-athletes were some 90 miles apart.

“When she played volleyball I would go watch all of her matches in the fall and when I played baseball in the spring she would be at all of the baseball games,” Juan said. “It was perfect.”

Once the three children came along, the Tulane-LSU football rivalry already had begun to wane, though the family would attend sporting events at both schools.

The Tigers, though, had a bit of an edge when it came to recruiting the youngsters as fans.

“When our kids were growing up, he didn’t shop,” Julie said of Juan. “I was the only shopper in the group so all my kids wore purple and gold. I literally did not own any green until Jenna decided to go to Tulane and I had to go find some green.”

Jenna, who was the star player on four of Julie’s state championship teams at Country Day, said, “LSU was always a dream of mine,” but when it came time to choose a college, Jenna gravitated toward Tulane.

She was attracted to the opportunity to stay home as well as the academic opportunity, small campus and community feel that reminded her of Country Day – and the Green Wave recruited her strongly.

Tulane football coach Willie Fritz recruited Justin just as strongly as the volleyball program had recruited Jenna, and Justin committed to the Green Wave during the junior year of his tenure as a three-sport star.

“I knew once I had an opportunity to come here,” Justin said, “it was the place I wanted to be.”

Jenna’s last season and Justin’s first season at Tulane overlapped, the only time that two of the siblings have been competing for the same college at the same time, which Justin called “a real nice opportunity.”

The Green Wave play a Friday game at Memphis on October 13, the day before the Tigers host Auburn, which might give Justin an opportunity to watch Jake’s team in person.

“That would be a cool game to go to,” he said.

Jake had pretty much settled on attending LSU for its mechanical engineering program by the time his Country Day football career came to an end a year ago.

Then he realized “I want to do this more.”

So he decided to try and walk on with the Tigers. He was attending “a senior breakfast thing” in the spring when he got a phone call informing him that he would be able to walk on.

“He got the best of both worlds,” Julie said.

And Julie had a fellow Tiger in the family.

“My wife’s very happy that she got one,” Juan quipped.

Julie very nearly had a fellow Tiger even before Jake’s decision.

Jenna was preparing for her fourth season with the Green Wave when COVID hit its peak. The season was postponed from the fall to the spring and practicing and competing in the spring while finishing classes for graduation became untenable.

She planned to play in 2021 as graduate transfer at LSU, and her mother “was looking forward to me being a legacy.”

“I would have been able to hit both,” Jenna said of her parents’ alma maters. “It’s kind of crazy how it all worked out. It was a hard decision, but it was the right one.”

And when Jake wound up wearing an LSU jersey, “that made it full circle,” Jenna said.

And speaking of jerseys, Jenna always wore No. 13, which later became Justin’s number. Jake wore it to play other sports, but as a defensive lineman couldn’t wear a number so low for football.

Jenna chose the number when she was playing basketball as a youngster at Johnny Bright playground.

She picked the number she would wear for Tulane because her coach, Dennis Tracy, wore No. 13 when he played basketball at – you guessed it – LSU.

When Jenna started coaching at Sacred Heart she decided she wanted to play against the best programs in the state – just as Julie has routinely done.

Country Day has won 13 of the last 14 state titles in Division V, Louisiana’s smallest classification, but routinely plays – and frequently defeats – elite programs from the largest classifications.

Sacred Heart, which is also a Division V program, will get a good gauge of where it’s at when Jenna’s team plays Julie’s team for the first time in the Country Day tournament October 13.

“That’s going to be the next big rivalry game,” Juan said.

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Les East

CCS/SDS/Field Level Media

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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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