After moving from Nigeria, Babanifesimi Opadele finds a home at Young

Babanifesimi Opadele figured he knew what he was getting into when he moved to the United States from Nigeria as a 10-year-old.

SHARE After moving from Nigeria, Babanifesimi Opadele finds a home at Young
Babanifesimi Opadele drives past a teammate in a drill during football practice.

Babanifesimi Opadele drives past a teammate in a drill during football practice.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Babanifesimi Opadele figured he knew what he was getting into when he moved to the United States from Nigeria as a 10-year-old.

“At firstI thought I was going to fit in because I used to watch a lot of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network,” said Opadele, who’s now 17 and a junior football player at Young. “I thoughtit was going to be exactly like that, but it was not.”

What took some gettingused to was American English vernacular.

“It was a culture shock at first because it was so many things, like slang words I wasn’t used to and I didn’t know what it was, and it would be awkward.”

Any uneasiness is long past, though. The outgoing Opadele has found a home at Young, both on and off thefootball field.

“He’s been branching out a lot more,” Young coach Dan Finger said. “Last year at the homecoming dance was a big one. The guys came back and were like, ‘He’s thelife of the party. He’s doing back flips on the dance floor and stufflike that.’”

Opadele, a solid 5-5 and 200 pounds, has been opening eyes on the football field as well after coming to the sport almost by accident.

“My mom originally thought it was soccer,” he said, rather than American football. “I was like, a little fat kid. This was summer [after] my eighth-grade year and my mom wanted me out of the house.”

In the Dolphins football program, Opadele found some kindred spirits.

“I started talking with some new kids and I got along really well with them,” he said. “They were all funny and they were all caring people ... so I was like, I might as well stick to this.”

Opadele started lifting weights and transformed his body. He was second in a state powerlifting competition, a remarkable result considering where he started.

“The summer camp of my freshman year we would go into lift and I remember not being able to pick up anything,” he said, laughing. “It was a struggle.

“People think I just woke up and overnight I was very strong. Uh, no. I saw how the seniors were way stronger than me and [thought], ‘I can get better at this.’”

He did. His personal bests are 300 pounds for the bench press, 550 squat and 500 deadl-lift.

Opadele’s work ethic and enthusiasm made him a quick study when it came to football and he’s turned himself into a key cog for the Dolphins. Playing offensive guard on the varsity last season, he had 24 pancake blocks. This fall, he’s added defensive line duties and is starting both ways.

“He’s just a really aggressive guy and he’s built himself into that,” Finger said. “He picks up everything so quickly.”

Though he just started his junior season, Opadele has shown the potential to play beyond high school.

“His height is going to be a limiting factor, but D-III schools are going to love him,” Finger said. “His grades are good. He’s going to have opportunities to get into schools he might not otherwise have gotten into because of football.

“We’re working with him on the whole Twitter thing, helping him promote himself because that’s not who he is naturally.”

Who Opadele is, is a kid who’s found his niche in a new sport in a new country. And he can’t wait to see what comes next.

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