LINCOLN — As he surveyed his family's Fourth of July party, Freedom Akinmoladun noticed 90 percent of them wearing Nebraska football gear. And that was before Uncle Carlos — who “bleeds red and white” — went to work on him.
“He sat me down and explained Nebraska's history and all of the accomplishments,” one of the Huskers' newest commits said. “The people in Nebraska actually really care about the program.”
The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder from Grandview (Mo.), just south of Kansas City, had already visited NU's campus in mid-June for Big Red Weekend. He left close to committing. Only Kansas State's pitch gave him pause. But the Sea of Red on the Fourth sealed it. He called Nebraska tight ends coach Barney Cotton right then, delighting fans fond of puns on Twitter and extending his family's long history with the state and its flagship football program.
Akinmoladun's mom, Sherryee, grew up in Omaha, graduating from Benson High School. She gave birth to Freedom in Omaha. She hadn't planned on it, Freedom said, but as his parents drove to Missouri, she felt like labor was suddenly near. They turned the car around.
Freedom's older brother, Olukayode “Junebug” Akinmoladun, is a senior starting right guard at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Several of Freedom's extended family members, including current Husker sprinter Oladapo Akinmoladun, attended Nebraska, and their passion for the program hasn't flagged aside from a brief frustration with NU quarterback Taylor Martinez.
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“They didn't really like his play as a freshman or sophomore,” Akinmoladun said. “But I did. I knew he was a work in progress and he'd be ballin' out as a junior and senior.”
Akinmoladun won't catch any passes from NU's record-setting senior, but he will play tight end in the offense Tim Beck designed to suit Martinez's dual-threat talents. While several teams recruited Akinmoladun as a defensive end — the position he's played since grade school — Nebraska preferred him on offense, where he caught 14 passes for 331 yards as a junior at Grandview. Akinmoladun switched to tight end after spending two years as Grandview's top offensive lineman.
“I can't tell you how many linemen have told me they want to play tight end,” Grandview coach Andy Leech said. “But we decided to give him a shot at it. He had those huge hands. He caught everything we threw at him. And he's a fantastic blocker. That's his best attribute as a tight end.”
Said Akinmoladun: “I like hitting people, inflicting pain. If I hit them and they fall down, I get a confidence boost.”
After two Grandview games last year, Leech put a highlight tape on Hudl and sent it to several college coaches, who gave “immediate feedback,” Leech said. He knew the college coaches would come knocking in the spring evaluation period. Illinois was first. Cotton, Leech said, saw the highlight tape in mid-April and came down two days later.
“I didn't know what school he was from, but, man, was he tall,” Akinmoladun said of Cotton. “Most coaches aren't tall like that.”
Olukayode gave Freedom a list of “serious questions” to ask coaches during the process. One example: Do you just want to win games, or do you want to make boys into men?
“Football only takes you so far before you hang up the pads,” Akinmoladun said.
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Cotton and Nebraska gave the right answers. So did KSU. But after Big Red Weekend, Akinmoladun called Leech and said “there was no doubt” NU was the pick. Leech thought: I've had a Grandview player say that about the Huskers before.
So he talked to Akinmoladun about Josh Freeman, who decommitted from Nebraska to Kansas State four days before Christmas in 2005. Leech was an assistant then and saw how much of a bind that decision put NU's coaching staff in.
“I don't want that to happen again,” said Leech, whose school also produced NU wide receiver Brandon Kinnie.
So if you're ready to commit, Leech told Akinmoladun, that's fine, but stick with it. And be up front with coaches who still want to talk to you.
“I knew what he was trying to say,” Akinmoladun said. “But I have something solid. I know where I'm going.”
“He didn't really enjoy the recruiting process, the non-stop phone calls, the interviews,” he said.