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Yale’s defense is one of the youngest squads in the Ancient Eight. Still, it has persevered game after game and kept the Bulldogs in the running for the Ivy League championship, delivering one of the Bulldogs’ best seasons in recent memory.
One of those young defensive backs is Foyesade Oluokun ’17. At 6’2” and 219 lbs., Oluokun started all nine games this season and currently leads the defense with 71 total tackles, 18 more than second-best Darius Manora ’17. His season-high of 16 tackles in the game against Colgate also marked the highest number of tackles in a single game for the team.
Oluokun was a standout as soon as he joined the team his freshman season. Starting all 10 games last season, Oluokun ranked third on defense with 44 total tackles and was named to the second-team All-Ivy. In addition, he was named to the College Sports Journal All-Freshman Team and was the only recipient in the Ivy League.
Oluokun said that while he was not surprised to join the starting lineup his freshman year, he was humbled by the experience and only wanted to play his best.
“I never thought I was that good coming out of high school, but I always knew I was bigger and athletic … enough to play the game,” Oluokun said. “So for me, I was not that surprised to play that much freshman year. I accepted my role [and] what the coach wanted — I played.”
Right off the bat, Oluokun finished his first career game against Colgate with seven total tackles, second on the team. He consistently progressed throughout the season, capturing his first interception in the Bulldogs’ fourth game against Dartmouth and achieved his season-high of 13 tackles in the game against Brown.
Those numbers, however, do not tell the whole story. Behind the impressive stats was a freshman who, like many of his teammates, struggled to elevate his game to the collegiate level.
“Coming into college, I realized I was big as a freshman but not as strong,” Oluokun said. “People were stronger and faster than I was used to in high school, and I could no longer just rely on my natural abilities. I had to start learning techniques and taking the coaches’ advice.”
Playing among such a young defense, Oluokun said that he — along with Dale Harris ’17 and Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 — always sought leadership and support from fellow defensive back Cole Champion ’16. Even though Champion was only a sophomore in Oluokun’s freshman season, Champion always seemed to understand what the coaches taught and alleviated any confusion among the freshmen, according to Oluokun.
Oluokun respected Champion for not only for his experience but also passion for the game.
“I could see that [Champion] really cared about the game, and I look up to that,” said Oluokun.
When he returned to the field for his second season, Oluokun said, he became stronger, faster and more confident on the field. In addition, he said that playing with the same group of defenders, namely Champion, Harris and Rymiszewski, has only made them more comfortable with one another. Watching more film after practice also helped the defenders minimize errors during the games, according to Oluokun.
When asked about his improvements throughout the past year, Oluokun said he has overcome major mental obstacles that deterred his performance freshman year.
“Last year, [the issues] were always mental,” said Oluokun. “Once you are caught up with the physical parts of the game — when you are not thinking about the game but just playing the game — you know you are playing well.”
Oluokun attributes much of his success as a defensive back to his physique. Having a large frame, he said, has helped him in man-to-man coverage as well as assisting teammates Harris and Rymiszewski.
Teammate and defensive end Victor Egu ’17 agreed that Foye’s physique has been key to his performance.
“[Oluokun] has performed well all this season. He brings size, speed, strength and physicality to our secondary,” Egu said. “He really pushes our defense to the next level because of his effort. I trust [Oluokun] to do his job well and perform well on the field.”
Linebacker Darius Manora ’17 echoed Egu’s sentiments, adding that Oluokun’s size has allowed him to make big hits in the run game as well as the pass game.
Oluokun, however, believes there is still room for improvement.
This season, Oluokun said he aspires to take more chances during the games, which require that he first feel more comfortable with his capabilities. Improving his physique, he said, is a major way through which he could do so.
“I do not like getting pushed around. I do not like getting tackled or being the weaker one,” said Oluokun, “I want to get bigger and faster … Footwork, athleticism, strength and speed are what football is all about on the defensive side, along with aggression and confidence.”
While Oluokun focuses on improving himself on the field, he also recognizes his burgeoning role as a leader among a young defense. For players like himself who have had experience on the field, Oluokun said they must lead by example and allow younger players to trust that they know what they are doing.
Especially for freshman players Jason Alessi ’18 and Hayden Carlson ’18, both of whom recently stepped up to fulfill Rymezewski’s place after his injury, Oluokun is a leader they look up to.
“[Oluokun] is a selfless leader. He always leads by example and picks people up when things are not going our way,” Carlson said.
Manora and Harris agreed that Oluokun’s success on the field as well as his determination to improve have forged him into a leader for younger players. Whether the team is up by 21 or down by 21, Manora said that Oluokun is always focused and motivating the team to do better.
According to Harris, Oluokun has had a role since the beginning of freshman year and is evolving into a leader.
“[Oluokun] is definitely taking a role to become a leader on the team,” Harris said. “The fact that he has been consistently improving day by day and is why he is evolving more as a leader.”
Oluokun graduated from Johns Burroughs High School in St. Louis in 2013.