Oyekoya Finds Ways to Help Bucknell Football and Community
Sept. 24, 2012
By Todd Merriett, Bucknell Athletic Communications
It was an overcast night at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium in mid-September 2009. Thanks to outstanding defensive play and four interceptions, Bucknell was leading Robert Morris 26-23 late in the fourth quarter. The Colonials took possession on their own 33-yard line with just over 90 seconds to play. Clear passing situations followed. That meant additional playing time for a slender and athletic freshman defensive end for the Bison whose specialty in high school back in Maryland was attacking the quarterback.
Before he sent a young Samuel Oyekoya into the game, then-Bucknell defensive coordinator Andrew Cohen told the rookie he was going to get a sack. Oyekoya doubted him, but Cohen proved to be omniscient.
Immediately following a delay of game penalty that made it 2nd-and-15, Oyekoya teamed up with future All-Patriot League defensive lineman Robert De La Rosa on a sack of Robert Morris quarterback Camdin Crouse, setting up a 3rd-and-forever situation. Rob Gerlach then intercepted his second pass of the game on the very next play and the Bison offense went into victory formation as time wasted away on the team's first win of the season.
"Time has just seemed to fly by," comments Oyekoya, now a senior defensive end who was part of one of the best defenses in the country a year ago. "I still remember my first sack. Coach Cohen told me I was going to get a sack and I was like `Yeah, yeah, you're going to tell me I'm going to get a sack every game'. They had this big-time left tackle and I made a move off the edge and got the sack. It was probably one of the most exhilarating moments of my career. It taught me how hard it is to make plays in college - it wasn't just me. I needed great coverage, great push from the inside guys and I needed to beat my man one-on-one. It just shows how much goes into every rep and how it really is a game of inches."
Oyekoya, who wore number 86 earlier in his career but now dons number 9, has been a key member of the Bison defense that has been the unquestioned strength of the team during his four-year tenure. After having solid numbers during Oyekoya's freshman and sophomore years, the defensive unit really peaked last fall. Bucknell ranked second nationally in forced turnovers (39), third in the country in rushing defense (78.3 ypg), 12th in total defense (301.6 ypg) and 15th in scoring defense (19.4 ppg).
"It hasn't dawned on me that we were one of the top defenses in the nation," says a humble Oyekoya, who posted a career-high 24 tackles in 2011 despite missing three games with a head injury. "It came down to listening to our coaches and being fundamentally sound. We swarm to the football and good things come."
Oyekoya, who enters the Lafayette game tied for 11th nationally in sacks per game (1.0), has posted 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in his career. He is just six sacks away from joining the program's career top-10 list.
"When I came in as a freshman, rushing the quarterback was what I was recruited to do and what I took pride in," explains Oyekoya. "I learned in order to get on the field more and to do the things our defense needs me to do, I needed to learn to play against the run. Coach (Matt) Borich was critical instilling that to me. The thing that really stuck was when he told me a tackle for loss is like a sack in the run game and that got me excited to play against the run. The more we stop the run, the more they have to throw the ball and we can get after the quarterback."
One of only two freshman defenders to appear in all 11 games in 2009, Oyekoya has been a valuable member of the Bison defensive unit the last four years. However, 2012 is the first time he is a regular member of the starting lineup and that responsibility is not lost on him.
"The transition to being a starter hasn't been much since I have been splitting time all along," explains Oyekoya, who enters this weekend's contest with 52 career tackles. "I look at being a starter more from a responsibility and accountability standpoint. I have the younger guys looking at me to not only make plays, but to bring them along and teach them the way the program is going to be."
Oyekoya is one of two senior starters, along with Devin Gordon-Hamm, on the defensive line that also features a pair of juniors (Sean Sellers, Tracey Smith). Plenty of veterans are in reserve roles as seniors Amir Afkhami and James Carson, as well as junior Brent Forbes, have already played key snaps off the bench. Oyekoya cites the closeness within the group as the unit's biggest strength. He mentions how hard they will push each other during practice and they know in the defensive line film room that the gloves will come off, but it is all in the name of improvement.
A three-time Patriot League Academic Honor Roll member, Oyekoya is majoring in economics and political science and would like to locate a job in finance or public policy near home in the Washington, D.C., area following graduation next May. While most college students can't wait to receive that first real paycheck so they can put a down payment on a new car, buy some new clothes or finally buy the latest iPhone on their wish list, Oyekoya is most excited about having the opportunity to help others.
"I am going to get a job and find ways to give back to my community," says Oyekoya. "I had a mentor in high school that I know I wouldn't be here without and he always told me to pay it forward. I will always make sure I pay it forward and am involved in my community."
Currently, Oyekoya is heavily involved in the Thorne Room Orphanage and Educational Center (www.troec.org), an organization in Sierra Leone that provides education for orphans ages 6 to 15. Last year he collected supplies for the organization at a number of fraternities on campus and he is looking forward to devoting more resources and time to the cause following graduation.
While he will miss football next spring, Oyekoya is already thinking of some alternatives to fill up his time. In addition to getting more involved with the campus community, he plans on finding things to help make the football program better and helping to make the experience for team members a more enriching experience than it already is.
It is quickly evident the thoughtful Oyekoya was brought up right by his parents, Wale and Folashade, who immigrated to the United States from Nigeria before their three children were born. They landed in New Orleans, and while they became diehard Saints fans, they did not want their son playing football. At their urging, Oyekoya gave soccer a try, but after one year gave his parents an ultimatum - I'm playing football or nothing.
He quickly began playing football and hasn't stopped since.
The family moved to Maryland when Samuel was young and football brought the entire group together. Wale and Folashade endured hectic work schedules, but they always found time on Saturday to support their son on the gridiron.
"Growing up, that was definitely one of the highlights of my week," remembers Oyekoya, who can still count his parents among the attendance at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium on fall Saturdays. "Everybody in my community knew I was playing and was supportive."
As Oyekoya worked his way through Gonzaga High School, he caught the attention of many college football teams. Among them was Bucknell. Right before a visit to the Lewisburg campus, Oyekoya was reading the Washington Post and came across an article that highlighted the top 50 schools in the country, and right near the top was Bucknell, ahead of all the other Patriot League schools that were recruiting him.
"This big-time paper comes out and I see Bucknell glaring at me right before I leave and I thought that might be a sign," recalls Oyekoya. "It definitely helped sway me. I came on my visit and had a really good connection with Coach Cohen. He was very passionate about the game and about staying on top of my academics. I felt like Bucknell could be a place I could succeed.
"In hindsight, I made a great decision. It was difficult to make that decision at a 17-year-old kid, but the Bucknell community has been great to me and my family, and I expect it will be even better in the years to come."
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Football Gameday Program.