It is not every day — read: ever — an under-the-drinking-age lineman from the Mid-American Conference leaves school early to enter the NFL draft.
But then Ola Adeniyi always has operated a little ahead of schedule.
When he was 8, Ola and his mother and brother emigrated from Nigeria to Houston. The first order of business: a school placement test. Ola’s age suggested he begin in third grade. The assessment said fifth. Mom split the difference.
“She decided to hold me back,” Ola said.
As it were, he graduated high school at 16 and will receive his degree in marketing from Toledo this spring at 20. Next up, the former Rockets defensive end is set to become the youngest lineman in the NFL.
“I felt like this was the right time for me to show my talents,” Adeniyi said by phone from the NFL’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, where the Winter Games have given way to the annual Underwear Olympics. “I would not have thought about it if I didn’t get my degree first. That’s what I came to Toledo to do.”
Adeniyi called the decision to forego his final season of eligibility “really hard,” and no doubt many of us were really surprised. The second-team all-league selection is a bit under the radar and undersized, measuring in Friday at 6-foot-1, 248 pounds. Too often that’s what matters most — how you look in spandex, not in pads.
Remember Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston? The Jets were so mesmerized by his superhero build and combine workout they drafted him sixth overall in 2008 only to realize, as assistant coach Mike Westhoff told a reporter of his football instincts, “If he touched a hot stove today, he’d scream out tomorrow.” (Gholston retired with zero career sacks.)
But here’s hoping — and expecting — the NFL gives Adeniyi a long look. The more we hear, the more we should have seen this coming. Turns out, scouts observed the same thing fans did in Toledo: A fleet, pass-rushing terror with a game to suit the times. Judging by his first step, if he touched a stove, he’d scream out last week.
In a light year for edge rushers, don’t be stunned if Adeniyi — who split residences last season between an off-campus house and the opposing backfield (20 tackles for loss) — climbs as high as the third round.
“He’s good in the right area,” Pro Football Focus draft analyst Josh Liskiewitz said. “Pass rushing is everything. Look at defensive tackles now. If you don’t rush the passer but you’re really good against the run, that doesn’t matter anymore. ... There were games [Adeniyi] completely took over, completely unblockable on the edge. Yes, there is a competition-level factor. But he was excellent at Miami [Fla.], too.”
Adeniyi projects as either an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or on the edge in a 4-3. A model for the latter is Melvin Ingram, a similarly undersized 6-1, 247-pound Pro Bowl end for the Chargers. “Dude is a dog and that’s how I see myself,” Adeniyi said.
Either way, the former two-star recruit just wants a chance. As always, he is ahead of schedule but right on time.
“This is what you dream about,” Adeniyi said. “It’s all a huge blessing.”
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