Big Alabama Track Athlete also has a Deft Hand with a Paint Brush

Isaac Odugbesan is an SEC shot-put champion taking aim at the Olympic Games this summer in Japan, and he's also an accomplished artist, who plans to put his skills to good use
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When you see a 6-foot-5, 315-pound college student walking around the University of Alabama campus, there is a kneejerk reaction – Crimson Tide football player.

That’s a logical conclusion to make. Alabama is a top-tier football school, and seeing a bevy of behemoth, 5-star athletes on the quad is akin to seeing fish in the ocean.

“Every day I step out of the house. Every single time,” Isaac Odugbesan said of being mistaken for an Alabama football player.

Odugbesan does throw the shot-put for Alabama, and is not a 5-star defensive tackle – although Crimson Tide track and field throws coach Derek Yush said he definitely could be.

So, athlete? Definitely comes to mind when you see Odugbesan.

But artist?

Yes, and a good one.

“I’ve always been artistically inclined,” said Odugbesan, who is studying art at UA and competes in the NCAA Indoor Championships on Friday in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “I could always draw. That’s just always been a thing for me.”

Odugbesan always been involved in athletics growing up in Nigeria: basketball, volleyball, and even boxing. But art was his passion.

Even when he took a break from drawing and painting as a teenager, he came back to it just before going to college.

Now, it’s something he wants to do full time.

“If I end up using my art degree it will be to dabble in the world of animation because it’s always been so interesting to me - to bring it from storyboard to life.”

Odugbesan doesn’t have a particular style when it comes to his art. He prefers portraits and landscapes.

He likes to paint anything, really.

Almost anything.

“I’ve always sucked at abstract because for whatever reason I just don’t know how to produce something that doesn’t make sense,” Odugbesan said. “There has to be a systematic breakdown or process for me. I can’t just throw something up on the canvas.”

That makes sense in a way. Odugbesan has always been about structure, especially training in the shot-put.

That’s a big reason he chose Alabama – he was tired of learning on his own how to improve his shot-put performance by watching YouTube videos.

Yes. YouTube videos.

What happened was Odugbesan was recruited by Middle Tennessee State while he was in Nigeria. As a junior in high school, Odugbesan caught the eye of Blue Raider coaches after his throw of 17.31 meters in the shot-put.

Odugbesan chose to attend MTSU in the fall of 2017 and the future looked promising.

Not quite.

“They had a shot-put coach, but by the time I got there he was gone,” Odugbesan said. “I was kind of on my own.”

He resorted to using YouTube videos as his coach. He took videos of himself and compared them to the ones online in order to improve.

It worked.

He was the Conference USA Male Freshmen of the Year and an outdoor first-team All-USA selection. He took first in the indoor and outdoor Conference USA Championships the following year. Despite the success, he wanted to get better.

That wasn’t going to happen at MTSU. Just like with his art, Odugbesan needed structure.

“I realized there was nothing more I could teach myself,” Odugbesan said. “I had watched all the YouTube videos and felt this was as good as it gets. I couldn’t teach myself anything else, so I was like, ‘let me find a good school with a coach where I can commit myself to the process and learn new things.’”

Alabama didn’t waste time grabbing Odugbesan once he entered the transfer portal after his sophomore season at MTSU.

"He is someone that we had seen at a couple of track meets and he just looked the part," Yush said. "He looked like he could be that next-level guy."

He had five top finishes this indoor season, including a school record 20.50-meter throw at the SEC Championships.

Now the goal is to improve at nationals and get to 21.10 meters. That’s what he needs to qualify for the Olympics to compete for Nigeria this summer in Japan.

"His eyes are on the prize of representing Nigeria if and when we have an Olympic Games," Yush said. "That's a pretty tall task because there are a couple of really good throwers for Nigeria.

"But we feel he can get to that (21.10-meter) mark and qualify him for the Olympic Games."