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MX News Update 2024

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Avon’s Atewogbola, who has almost no football experience, moves up to Division I recruit


“I’m not trying to be like everyone else. You can’t copy and paste. I want to be different.”

AVON – Rob Gibson had only been working at Avon for a few days in February 2023 when he first met Enoch Atewogbola. Gibson, the school’s new football coach, saw him shooting free throws in the gym.

Gibson remembers asking Atewogbola about his position in football. He politely replied that he didn’t play football. Gibson rephrased the question.

“What are you doing want to play football?” he asked.

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The rest is history, as they say, but that’s not entirely true. The 6-4, 215-pound Atewogbola, with almost zero football experience, played for the team as a junior last year. He played some at defensive end. Made 17 tackles. A bag.

A good start. But the player Atewogbola can be – will be – is so much more. In his case, the rest is the future.

“He has no idea how good he’s going to be,” Gibson said. “But the best thing about Enoch is that no matter how good he becomes, he will never feel satisfied. He’ll never wake up feeling like he made it. He will always question himself and ask, “Did I work hard enough?” or ‘Did I push hard enough?’”

Atewogbola, almost entirely on the promise of what he can become and how far he has come, was offered a scholarship by Marshall in January. Northern Illinois followed suit. Then Minnesota, Boston College and Western Michigan. On April 27, Atewogbola made an unseen commitment to Minnesota (he will make his official visit to Minnesota the weekend of June 7-9).

In fourteen months, Atewogbola went from a 15-year-old with no intention of playing football to a Big Ten recruit. It’s an unusual story, perhaps fitting for a young man who has no problem breaking the mold.

“To be honest, I’m pretty weird,” Atewogbola said with a smile. “People sometimes call me strange. I take that as a compliment. My sense of humor is strange. Not everyone can be the same. I’m not trying to be like everyone else. You can’t copy and paste. I want to be different.”

He’s well on his way.

Find football

Atewogbola grew up in Nigeria and did not play football. Or basketball. Or any sport.

“I didn’t do any sports at all,” he said. “I wanted to be a mechanical engineer.”

His parents, Michael and Temitayo, moved Enoch and his younger sister Racheal to the United States five years ago. They lived briefly in St. Louis before coming to Indianapolis, first settling in Speedway. Enoch’s eighth-grade science teacher told him that a friend who coached AAU basketball was looking for a big man to join his team. “Give him my number,” Enoch said.

During the first practice, Enoch was overthrown. He missed layups. It was clear to him and his coach that he was far behind the rest of the team.

“He told me I had to get stronger,” Atewogbola said. “Because that’s what you get better at the fastest. He told me to do fifty push-ups a day.”

Soon, 50 push-ups a day was too easy. He worked up to 100. Then 200. Then 700. On two consecutive days that summer, he pumped out 1,000 and 1,001 push-ups. Why?

“I’ve always taken pride in working,” he said. “It gives you an advantage and gives you confidence because you’ve done the work. There’s nothing to be nervous about once you’ve done the work. Basketball didn’t come naturally. I had to do a lot of work. I was skinny, I had terrible footwork, and I had a lot of things I needed to get better at.

As a freshman at Speedway, Atewogbola played for the football team. The only reason: his best friend, Damola Ajani, also a Nigerian immigrant, was on the team.

“I only started playing football,” Atewogbola said, “because I wanted to be around him more.”

Ajani, a newcomer to football himself, eventually became a Division I player on the offensive line. He signed with Indiana and is part of the incoming freshman class. Atewogbola, however, did not comply. His family bought a house in Avon and when he entered his sophomore year, he quit football to focus on making the basketball team.

“One of the first practices we had, we worked out and had an open gym,” Avon basketball coach Drew Schauss said. “I got a call and came back to the gym around 7pm and he was working on post-moves. Those first few weeks, I immediately noticed that his work ethic was not that of most high school students. He always asked himself, ‘What can I do to get better?’

Atewogbola, after meeting Gibson, decided to come out for football as a junior. “The best decision I’ve made in my life,” he said. He had no expectations and guessed that he would probably play on the junior varsity team due to his lack of experience.

“People told me I was lifting like a football player, and I said I might as well try it again,” Atewogbola said. “I didn’t expect much because I dropped out in the second year and forgot everything. Don’t even relearn, just learn. I had to get over a lot of humps. But overall, as a first-year varsity guy, I think I did a good job.”

Gibson estimated that Atewogbola was on the field for “about 40% of our (defensive snaps)” as a junior. “Not because he wasn’t good enough,” Gibson said. “He just didn’t know anything about football yet. Next year he probably won’t come off the field for us again.”

With that inexperience in mind, Gibson told college coaches to recruit Atewogbola for what he could be and not what he currently is. Schools like Boston College, Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota were interested.

“Not as many schools are interested in developing high school talent because the transfer portal provides instant gratification,” Gibson said. “The number of schools that recruit these types of children is becoming smaller and smaller.”

Luckily for Atewogbola, he found a school that had a perfect template for him.

Picking Minnesota

The son of Nigerian immigrants, Boye Mafe was born and raised in Minnesota. He developed into a star pass rusher as a 6-4, 265 pound defensive end for his home state Golden Gophers. As a senior in 2021, he was named second-team All-Big Ten.

In the 2022 NFL Draft, Mafe, a former three-star prospect, was selected in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks with the No. 40 overall pick. In 16 games last season, his second in the NFL, Mafe posted nine sacks and 52 total tackles.

“Minnesota recruited him, developed him, then he was drafted in the second round and led the Seahawks in sacks,” Gibson said. “There’s a reason why Minnesota was so attractive to (Atewogbola) when they started recruiting him.”

Atewogbola called it a ‘no brainer’. He said he wasn’t worried about going to Minnesota without going there first.

“They have football, food and a gym,” he said. “Before I got the offer, I knew Minnesota had the coaches I wanted to play for. Even though I hadn’t been to campus yet, I knew they were coaches I wanted to play for for four years. They took a chance on me.”

Atewogbola, who turned 17 on Saturday, said the rest is up to him. There are no concerns about his willingness to work. The days of doing a thousand push-ups ended when he found the weight room. But Gibson said there is no one who matters more than Atewogbola.

“You can’t skip a set in the weight room and look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’re going to be an NFL superstar,” he said. “How can you take yourself seriously?”

Atewogbola said he walked around school with low self-esteem. “I felt like no one knew or respected me,” he said. But his coaches say this is not the Atewogbola they see now. Gibson said Avon Principal Matt Shockley would name Atewogbola as one of his “top five favorites” among the more than 3,000 students at the high school.

“You’re not supposed to have favorites,” Gibson said. “But he’s just a great kid and a great teammate. He never talks about himself, never focuses on himself. He’s just an all-around All-American type.

Schauss said it may be a few more years before Atewogbola even begins to approach his potential in football. But he has no doubt he will get there.

“I know what it’s like to feel average,” Atewogbola said. “I’m going to do everything I can to never feel like that again.”

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.