As far as Rob Radice is concerned, there is just one way to describe Tolu Olajide as a football player.
“He is an offensive lineman,” the Lawrence High football coach said. “He loves being an offensive lineman. That’s what he is. He’s an offensive tackle. He just loves it. It’s like, ‘No I don’t want to be a running back, I just want to go block somebody.’”
The Cardinal senior is in full agreement. He played on the defensive line his first few years of high school but after being moved, he never had the desire to switch back despite the anonymity an offensive lineman endures.
“I was so happy I was on the offensive side,” Olajide said. “I would say I’m a selfless person. I wasn’t in it for the accolades. I just wanted my team to win. I know it helped. I was good at the position and it helped us a lot.”
Olajide was so good that he shared this year’s Charles J. “Fuzzy” Falzone Memorial Lineman of the Year award, presented by the 12th Man TD Club, with Robbinsville’s Aaden Butler.
“That meant a lot to me especially during this pandemic and how hard this season was for everyone,” said Olajide, who credited his coaches and teammates for the award. “It felt great to be noticed for my hard work while only playing four games.”
Those four games made quite an impression on the opposition. Radice noted that before each game the opposing coach would talk about how impressed they were watching Olajide on film.
It’s a pretty amazing story considering Olajide quit the sport in 7th grade. Back then, he was far from the 6-foot-4, 287-pound specimen he transformed himself into.
“I started with the Lawrence Lighting in fifth grade and played for a little bit, but I quit in seventh grade and started playing basketball,” Olajide said. “I wasn’t into it. When I was younger I wasn’t really as tough and aggressive. I wasn’t always tall, I was short and stocky.”
At age 13, Olajide had a huge growth spurt, which made him want to try football again. The only problem was, his weight also shot up, and not in a good way. He got up to 295 pounds with much of it being fat.
Olajide played freshman and JV football in 9th grade, and made varsity as a sophomore but did not play a down.
“When I came in as a freshman I was overweight, out of shape,” he said. “I wasn’t real enthused about football. I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do to better myself in the future. Sophomore year I didn’t feel they gave me a fair shot but that just comes with football.”
Radice returned for his second stint as head coach after that season and made an immediate impression on Olajide.
“Things just started rolling when he came in my junior year,” Olajide said. “He had an orientation, and it was like a whole new program. He took the program over and I just transformed as a player and he just bettered me. He saw how tall I was and how much potential I had and how much better I could really be. He just helped me from there.”
To hear Radice tell it, Olajide helped himself just as much. He worked hard enough to earn the starting job at left tackle his junior year, which led to him working even harder this past off-season.
He went from 295 to 287 and, although that doesn’t seem like a big drop, it was a significant change since much of his fat turned to muscle.
Olajide’s summer days featured morning workouts on the football field, followed by basketball in the afternoon and lifting in the evenings.
“You could see by midway through his junior year this kid could really be a player,” Radice said. “He just kept getting better and when that season ended he went right to the weight room in the fall and winter, and early in the spring he was just in there killing himself.
“You could see something clicked in him. I think he liked how he looked, I think it developed a huge amount of confidence in him that was the ticket to him believing in himself and his success. He really changed his body, it was a testament to him. He was dedicated to improving his body.”
As his physique improved, so did Olajide’s technique as a blocker. His aloofness from 9th grade turned into sheer tenacity. He displayed great feet and hips, loved attacking opponents and always played through the whistle, Radice said.
“He’s a big body but he gets after you and he moves so well,” the coach said. “He can get to the next level, has really good feet. He can reach block, down block, double team, solo. He did it all for us.”
Olajide felt his streamlined body was the key to his improvement.
“When I started to lean up a little I got faster,” he said. “I was a lot smarter for a lineman so he said my smartness and technique helps a lot with the offensive line. I made that transfer to offensive line and never looked back.”
He is now looking forward to a college career. Because he was a late bloomer and only had four games to show his wares as a senior, Olajide probably didn’t get as much attention from recruiters as he would have liked. Nonetheless, he has received offers from Assumption, Franklin Pierce and Stone Hill; and is in talks with Kutztown, New Hampshire and Wagner, where Notre Dame standout Ricky “Pop” Spruill is headed.
Radice feels everything should be decided by late December or early January.
Until then, Olajide will continue to hit the weight room and perform charitable services.
He has taken part in the football team’s Reading Across America program, where they read to students at Ben Franklin, Slackwood and Eldridge Park elementary schools. His massive presence had some of the youngsters in awe.
“He’s like a giant, the kids can’t get over him,” Radice said.
“There was this one boy asking me how old I was,” Olajide said. “At the time I was only 16, and he couldn’t believe me. That was just a great experience. The kids were great.”
Each Sunday, Olajide and his mom go grocery shopping with money her prayer group raises, and they donate the food to the homeless at the Conservatory Building in Trenton. Prior to the pandemic, he was a security guard at Calvary Full Gospel Church.
His picture has appeared in this paper for reading to the students, but publicity is hardly his goal.
“These things aren’t about taking pictures and showing everybody, ‘Hey I’m doing this,” Olajide said. “It’s just from the heart.”
A heart that appears to be as big as his re-tooled body.