LATROBE, Pa. — One of the standout rookies in Pittsburgh Steelers training camp never had any intentions of playing football. Heck, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi didn’t know the game existed when he was growing up in Nigeria.
It wasn’t until Adeniyi’s family immigrated to the United States 10 years ago that he discovered the game. And that only happened because the former University of Toledo standout’s penchant for American fast food prematurely ended his soccer career.
“I didn’t know anything about football,” Adeniyi said Tuesday afternoon. “Football was soccer to me. I played soccer. Unfortunately, I got fat because I saw McDonald’s and I saw Domino’s. I got fat to where I couldn’t play soccer anymore.”
Adeniyi isn’t fat anymore. He’s a chiseled 6-foot-1, 248-pound outside linebacker who has been turning heads during the first two weeks of camp for more reasons than one.
During practices, Adeniyi is easily mistaken for James Harrison. Not only was he issued No. 92, but he wears it the same way as the Steelers’ all-time sacks leader. The 92 sometimes becomes obscured as it rides up his shoulder pads and exposes his midsection. The fact that Harrison has almost identical measurements makes it even harder to distinguish between the two.
“I’ve heard it a bunch of times,” Adeniyi said of the comparisons to Harrison. “I don’t really feed into it. I’m trying to make a name for myself. I’m not trying to be in anyone’s shadows.”
He’s been doing a pretty good job of that. Adeniyi has the attention of Steelers coaches and is one of the rookies they’ll be keeping close tabs on Thursday night in the first preseason game against the Eagles.
Andeiyi, who goes by Ola, has a track record from his days at UT as a disruptive player. He had 20½ tackles for loss last season and led the Rockets in sacks with 8½. But he has been a pleasant surprise as a run defender in camp.
Being a quick study and his raw potential combine to make him an intriguing prospect. Adeniyi won’t turn 21 until next month. This is just his seventh year playing football. His family settled in Houston, and he tried out for his high school team when he was a freshman. However, his mother wasn’t fully on board yet so it was a short-lived first tryout. It didn’t work out as a sophomore either.
It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he actually made the team. Now, six years later, he’s battling for a spot on the 53-man roster with the Steelers after going undrafted out of Toledo. He didn’t land with the Steelers by accident. He had multiple offers to sign elsewhere but believed his best opportunity was with the Steelers.
Adeniyi is one of only six outside linebackers in training camp. And with starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree sitting out with injuries, Adeniyi has taken advantage of his increased reps.
“I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think it was a great opportunity for me,” he said. “It’s been great so far. I just have to keep developing.”
Behind Watt and Dupree, fourth-year pro Anthony Chickillo is entrenched as the top reserve. But the fourth outside linebacker spot is up for grabs. Keion Adams and Farrington Huguenin are the two players that stand in his way. Both have more experience, but neither has played in an NFL game. Adams spent the 2017 season with the Steelers after being placed on injured reserve. Huguenin spent time on the practice squad last season.
Even if Adeniyi does not make the 53-man roster he is a prime candidate for the practice squad because of his youth and potential to develop. His first chance to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster is Thursday night in the first preseason game against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
“Oh man, my first NFL game … the jitters will be there, but I’m ready for it,” he said.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ray Fittipaldo is a sports writer for the Post-Gazette.
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