Tunmise Adeleye is Nigerian, born of the Yoruba tribe, one of the three major tribes (Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and Igbo) of the thousands that populate Nigeria.
Adeleye says that “another Nigerian can tell where another Nigerian is from just by looking at them.”
So when his father, Yinka, first met Kenny Anunike in Houston during the 2019 spring evaluation period, Yinka almost instantly knew Anunike – a former Buckeye defensive graduate assistant who earlier this month left to become Fordham's defensive line coach – was of the Igbo tribe.
“Just based on their facial characteristics, my dad can tell what tribe they’re from,” Adeleye said. “He can tell what language they speak, just by how they look and by their name because your tribe kind of dictates what your name will be. It’s a lot of connections that people don’t realize that Nigerians have together.
“Even the smaller tribes, if you just hear the language that the person is speaking or if you look at their facial features, there’s so many things that you can be able to determine where someone is from just because of that.”
Anunike played a major helping hand in Adeleye’s recruitment, serving as the foot in the door when he traveled to Texas last May to evaluate Adeleye at a camp. A former defensive end himself, football was the path for Anunike to go to college to attain his degree – an importance his father, Emmanuel, made sure was never lost on him.
“In Nigerian culture, education is everything, man. Education, education, education,” Anunike said in December when he detailed his family history to Eleven Warriors. “But I started getting good at football so my father was like – I would tell him, ‘Hey, I made a touchdown today,’ and he’d say ‘OK, how was your math test?’ … And then when he figured out he wouldn’t have to pay for school, he was like, ‘When’s your next game?’”
Anunike repaid him threefold by earning a bachelor’s degree and two master's degrees, his second coming in January.
Proud to be a graduate of THE Ohio State University-Master of Sports Coaching, C/O 2019. 2nd Masters degree SecuredJust a Nigerian kid from Columbus, Ohio trying to turn his dreams into reality! Thanks be to God, my family, friends & fellow coaches for their support #GoBucks pic.twitter.com/iHMMco58jt— Kenny Anunike (@ANU_NIKE22) December 21, 2019
Those sorts of things resonated strongly with Adeleye. Most importantly, they resonated with Yinka.
“Coach Kenny was another guy that – just having that Nigerian background, my dad really trusted him because he was gonna keep it straight,” Adeleye said. “If Ohio State wasn’t a good program, or if there were any red flags that we needed to be concerned about or that I needed to know, Coach Kenny would’ve told us. That’s just how Nigerians operate. We always look out for each other.
“If there was anything bad about Ohio State, he would’ve let my dad know ASAP. We had a strong relationship like that. That’s just the Nigerian bond. We always look out for our people. Just knowing that, I knew I was gonna be walking into a situation that was great for me and my family.”
Adeleye will not be the only Nigerian player to suit up for Ohio State – Jeff Okudah and Chimdi Chekwa are two former Buckeye cornerback standouts – and he may not end up being the last.
Emeka Egbuka, a five-star receiver and one of Ohio State’s highest-priority uncommitted targets in the 2021 class, is half-Nigerian. Egbuka, who held a 3.99 GPA after his first semester as a junior, also puts an emphasis on academics. So, too, do his parents, who each hold master's degrees – his father, Henry Egbuka, in engineering and his mother, Rhonda Ogilvie, in management information systems.
“Nigerians are very academic-oriented people,” Adeleye said. “(Egbuka’s) dad, I already know how his dad’s looking at the recruiting process. It’s the same way my dad was. He wants to know that I’m gonna be set up in the best possible situation academically. Whatever I wanna study, I can study. Whatever I wanna achieve, I can achieve.
“He wanted to know that there’s an alumni base that can back me once I’m out of college. Ohio State checks all those boxes. He knew what they can bring to me on the field, and off the field what they can bring for me was elite. So he was all in on the decision.”
Also, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who signed with the Buckeyes in December, is of half West African descent. Smith-Njigba's grandparents are from Sierra Leone, a country less than 2,000 miles west of Nigeria.
Soon after they became familiar with Anunike, the Adeleyes were pleasantly surprised to find out that a man higher up on the totem pole was plenty connected with Nigerian culture.
During his time as a Michigan defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, Greg Mattison grew an appreciation for the work ethic and academic emphasis that Nigerians are known for.
Mattison coached former Wolverines defensive end Mario Ojemudia and linebacker Josh Uche, and he recruited defensive lineman David Ojabo to Michigan out of New Jersey in the 2019 class before he took the Ohio State job.
“If Ohio State wasn’t a good program, or if there were any red flags that we needed to be concerned about or that I needed to know, Coach Kenny would’ve told us. That’s just how Nigerians operate. We always look out for each other.”– ohio state commit tunmise adeleye
Mattison also recruited Clemson defensive end Ruke Orhorhoro and Notre Dame defensive end Ovie Oghoufo, each of whom praised Mattison during their time in high school.
“Coach Matt is a guy that, whenever he has the ability or opportunity to coach a Nigerian, he always wants to take that opportunity because he knows the Nigerian culture of hard work,” Adeleye said.
The Buckeyes’ star defensive end commit found that out during the only trip he has taken to Ohio State thus far.
On June 21, Adeleye and his father traveled to Columbus for a weekend trip, and even though he’s never been back since, the totality of that trip was enough for Adeleye to commit 10 months later.
That visit was not the lone reason he chose to join the Buckeyes. The coaching staff did a good job of staying in clear, constant contact with him, the program has as strong of a national brand as any in the country, the tradition in Columbus was a major pull, Larry Johnson develops pro-caliber defensive linemen better than any coach in America, a months-long camaraderie was built between he and the other recruits in Ohio State's class of 2021 and Adeleye had been dreaming of wearing scarlet and gray pads since he was a pre-teen.
All were real factors in his recruitment. But the June trip is what set all of that into motion.
If you were flipped a dime for every time you’ve heard a recruit call Ohio State his dream offer or his dream school but signed with another program, you wouldn’t need a stimulus check. Only once they actually get on campus and get a true sense of whether the program is a real fit – with a Dobbins exception here and a TreVeyon Henderson outlier there – can they take off their scarlet-and-gray-colored glasses to see what’s real and what’s not.
Adeleye came in with sky-high views of the program that day, but he left feeling the same way.
Before the visit, Mattison had already made it known to Adeleye that he was the top guy he wanted to bring into the class. He had visions of Adeleye becoming another program-building type of player from Texas in the same vein as Dobbins, Jeff Okudah and Garrett Wilson.
A May 22 offer signified the beginning of Mattison becoming Adeleye’s main recruiter, as he gave Adeleye a soon-accepted invitation for an unofficial visit, and a couple days later Johnson came into the frame by reaching out with a phone call to set the table of that June visit.
“I would say Coach Matt was just as important (as Coach Johnson),” Adeleye said. “Just the relationship he built with me helped a ton. Coach Matt was really the one that sat down with me and laid it all down.”
That weekend, Adeleye and his dad walked into the players’ cafeteria in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, one bustling with recruits eating with Buckeye coaches and fellow high school players invited to the event. They sat down at a table to eat lunch across from Mattison and his wife, Ann, and that’s where a critical foundation was laid in his recruitment.
“Just sitting with him,” Adeleye says with a pause, “It’s some people you talk to and you can just tell right away that they’re fake or they don’t have your best interests at heart. And my parents are very good at picking things up like that as well. Just meeting with Coach Matt and sitting down with him and hearing him and his wife’s story, what he’s done with his coaching career and all the people that he’s developed (made an impact).
“He is a genuine person. That just helps so much more because in this recruiting process, there are so many people that are recruiting for the wrong reason. They don’t really care about the kids. Coach Matt and Coach Johnson, they really care about the kids. They care about me, they care about my future. They want to develop me on and off the field as a man of character and as an elite defensive end on the field. It’s the whole package.”
After that lunch, the two pairs eventually parted ways. Adeleye and his father each knew they wanted to take their time with the process, as Adeleye had just finished up his sophomore year weeks prior and was not about to make an emotional decision and commit on the spot. Or anytime soon after, as it turned out.
But a seed was planted, and the Adeleyes shared a conversation in their car ride back to their Columbus hotel.
Yinka: You know you’re gonna end up going here.
Tunmise: I know. It’s already a done deal.
Continue the legacy. pic.twitter.com/eC2MMAthzj— (@TunmiseAdeleye) March 7, 2020
It wasn’t just that sit-down talk with the Mattisons that drove that belief home. Adeleye got to meet Chase Young, in the days before he became a national superstar, who imparted some wisdom on the 16-year-old that weekend about how to conduct himself in the recruiting process and how to handle the pressure of playing for the program.
Adeleye got a tour of the facilities, including an up-close look at Ohio Stadium that left a strong impression, and he formed friendships with other recruits in his class, like Jack Sawyer and Ben Christman, who would commit just five days later.
But in the beginning, the true backbones began with Anunike and Mattison and the connections made almost a year ago.
“I was just thinking the entire car ride about what I wanted to do in my life – the vision I have for my life and who can help me attain that vision. It all clicked,” Adeleye said of his thoughts in the moments after the visit. “I knew, deep down, that I was gonna be a Buckeye, but I wanted to give the respect to other schools and give them the opportunity to recruit me and show me what they have to offer. After all that, they came back to me and I was like, none of them can compare to Ohio State.”