Tears fell down Tayo Fabuluje’s face when the phone rang Saturday. The call from Bears coach John Fox seemed absurd two years ago.
The Bears’ sixth-round draft pick didn’t play football in 2013, moving to Utah to live with friends and work three jobs to support his older sister Tosin, who was still coping with their mother’s incarceration for theft.
Debra had been stealing to feed her family, Fabuluje said. His father — at whose knee he learned to love football, watching Cowboys games as a toddler — was deported to Nigeria when he was 5 because of his involvement in a truck theft ring, he said. Father and son haven’t spoken since.
“When he was taken out of our lives,” Fabuluje said, “she was like a deer in the headlights.”
The 6-6, 353-pound TCU offensive lineman celebrated Saturday with friends, knowing the day was never promised.
“I didn’t think it could happen for me, when bad things are going on in my life,” he said. “Like I’ve told people before, you kind of lose sight of the good things in life when you’re down and you’re struggling, and you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole.”
The Dallas-area native moved in with a high school teammate’s family in 2009 rather than stay home with his mom, and followed Ross Apo to BYU the next year. He redshirted before deciding to transfer to TCU; NCAA rules mandated he sit out 2011.
In 2012 — while his sister lived in his apartment and his mother was being prosecuted — Fabuluje made 12 starts, 10 at left tackle, for the Horned Frogs.
He moved back to Utah to live with the Apos the next fall, though. He needed money.
He worked three jobs — at Michael Kors, Sprint and Champs Sports — and sent checks to his sister back in Texas.
“It was something I had to do,” he said.
He enrolled again at BYU but didn’t play football, and his weight ballooned to nearly 400 pounds. But once his sister got a job, he returned to the game — at, for the second time, TCU.
After sitting out 2013, Fabuluje started 14 games last season, only his second year of actual game play in a five-year college stint that ended with a psychology degree.
GM Ryan Pace said the Bears’ scouting — player personnel director Josh Lucas and offensive line coach Dave Magazu have TCU connections — indicated he can play tackle and guard.
Fabuluje knows he’ll have to monitor his weight; Fox joked he’d step on a scale once he arrived at Halas Hall this week.
“A lot of times, players who have fought through adversity in their lives, I think that means something,” Pace said.
Fabuluje will write his mom, a Gary Ind., native, to tell her the news.
She’s eligible for parole in September.
“The hardest thing I’ve been through is just to have to go see my mom go give up her freedom to try and make ends meet for me and my sister,” he said. “To deal with that and overcome that obstacle and continue to persevere and stay on a positive track in life, there have been millions of negative avenues I could have took.
“And for whatever reason, I knew my mom wouldn’t have wanted me to do that.”