Imagine the process of working your whole life towards your dream.
You think of the long hours you will undoubtedly put in and the dedication it will take to reach your ultimate goal.
Being able to accomplish your dream, especially one as improbable as playing in the NFL is something that many people would give anything for.
Now imagine when you are right at the cusp of achieving that dream, a tragedy occurs that threatens the very possibility of this dream becoming a reality.
This is the story of Dayo Odeyingbo, the 2021 second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. In the second installment of Rookie Files on Horseshoe Huddle, we take a look at a player who has established himself as a high upside prospect but still has much more work to do as he fights his way back from a devastating injury.
The Heart of Football Country
Odeyingbo was born on September 24, 1999 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents Gary and Betty Odeyingbo had immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, looking to start their family in a better situation.
Odeyingbo and his family would move to Irving, Texas where he would spend the majority of his childhood. Texas is known as one of the biggest football states in the country, with high school football alone being one of the biggest sports in the state. Growing up not very far from the home of the Dallas Cowboys, this was no different for Odeyingbo.
He started playing pee-wee football and his love for the game continued to grow. Odeyingbo attended Carrollton Ranchview High School in the Dallas metro area, where he became a star on both sides of the ball.
Not only did Odeyingbo play defensive end at Ranchview, but he also saw time at wide receiver and tight end early in his high school career. Eventually, as young Odeyingbo began to grow bigger and display his freaky athletic traits, he became a permanent starter at left tackle and defensive end.
Odeyingbo flourished as a senior, collecting seven sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, and lead his team to the 4A state playoffs in 2016. Finishing his career with 12 sacks and 108 tackles, his play and determination had earned national attention, and was given a four-star ranking as a recruit.
After his senior year of football, Odeyingbo had a decision to make. The young kid from Brooklyn was also very gifted in track, as he had earned varsity letters as a hurdler and throwing shot put. Football won out in the end as Odeyingbo committed to play ball at Vanderbilt in the spring of 2017.
As a four-star prospect, he had received offers from high-powered football programs, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Baylor. So why did he choose to head to Tennessee and play at Vandy? His older brother, Dare, was a player at Vanderbilt at the time and Odeyingbo loved the idea of being able to play on the same team as his brother.
Continued Growth and Development
As Odeyingbo moved on to the next level of football, he hoped to take his game to the next level as well. Known for being an incredibly hard worker, he made a tremendous impact on his coaches and played 12 games as a true freshman. One of only six true freshmen to see playing time, Odeyingbo was able to compile 20 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and his lone career interception.
His performance as a freshman, and continued work within the program, showed coaches he was ready for a starting role. Next to his older brother, Odeyingbo entered the starting lineup as a sophomore and generated another 2.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and returned one of his team-leading two fumble recoveries for his only touchdown.
Entering his junior season, with older brother Dare graduating and pursuing a career in the NFL, Odeyingbo wanted to make his own legacy at Vanderbilt. While posting another solid year with 45 tackles and 12 tackles for loss, there was still more that he could do to better his game and make himself a more disruptive force.
One of the main changes he made was to his body. Odeyingbo had always been very athletic and long, but adding strength and size to his body made him more of a problem than he had ever been for SEC offensive lineman.
With a noticeable change to his body, at 6’6” and 276 lbs, Odeyingbo embarked on his best season ever. As a team captain and playing all over the defensive line, he tallied 5.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, and 32 tackles in just eight games on his way to being named second-team All-SEC.
Odeyingbo saw growth in every season at Vanderbilt. He continued to improve on every aspect of his game and left coaches with a phenomenal impression of him as both a player and a man. He had also caught the attention of plenty of NFL personnel, putting himself into the conversation as one of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the NFL draft.
Down, But Not Out
When players are prepping for the NFL draft, there is always the chance an injury could happen. Unfortunately for Odeyingbo, he was hit with one of the most devasting injuries you can have as a football player.
On January 24 as he was preparing for the Senior Bowl, Odeyingbo tore his Achilles while training in California.
“We were just going through some drills and I planted wrong and went down,” Odeyingbo told reporters during rookie minicamp. “Immediately I was just hoping that it wasn’t a serious injury. In the back of my mind, I kind of felt like it was a possibility.”
For many players, this might lead them to spiral. A major injury happening as they are so close to realizing their dream could certainly cause a young player to become down on themselves and lose focus on the bigger picture. This was not the case for Odeyingbo.
“Really my mindset was just getting back to work and getting back healthy. As far as the draft goes, I felt like I had put enough film in college out there to make coaches feel good about knowing what type of player they were getting without the pre-draft process.”
Obviously, the injury would make Odeyingbo fall down draft boards, but he had confidence that the film would speak for itself and he could still be drafted on Day Two. That team ended up being the Colts, as they selected Odeyingbo with the 54th pick in the NFL draft.
How Odeyingbo Helps the Colts
With the Colts selecting Kwity Paye with their first pick, it did not seem likely that they would go with another pass rusher with their second pick. But as Chris Ballard always says, you can never have enough pass rushers. When Odeyingbo was sitting there available at 54, it did not take long for the Colts to turn in the card.
Nicknamed the “Human Hurricane” by Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown, he is a very disruptive player with incredible burst and the ability to dominate the game in stretches. Odeyingbo has great explosion off the line that allows him to attack his opponent quickly with his 35 1’4” arms and penetrate before the offensive lineman can get set up. This will certainly bode well for him at the next level.
One thing the Colts value with their defensive lineman is position versatility. Odeyingbo provides just that, with his ability to play along the entire line. He will mostly play at the left end position, but do not be surprised to see Odeyingbo slide inside next to DeForest Buckner during NASCAR or sub-packages to get after the quarterback.
As far as intangibles are concerned, Odeyingbo is a very smart player that hardly ever finds himself out of position. Like Paye, he brings all-out effort on every play and will find himself involved in plays because of that effort. Both are qualities the Colts love with their defenders.
The big question will be how Odeyingbo can come back from the torn Achilles. Achilles tears are not as career-threatening as they used to be, but they are still a major injury that requires patience and time to come back from. The Colts believe that Odeyingbo can make a full recovery and they will certainly take things slow to make sure there are no setbacks for the rookie.
If any young player can return to form after an injury of this magnitude, it’s Odeyingbo. The hard work and determination he has displayed already in his young career will certainly translate to his recovery as he works to achieve his dream. If all goes well, Odeyingbo has the potential to pair up with Paye and become the next great pass rush tandem for the Colts for many years to come.
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