*Photo by Aliyah Smith/East-West Shrine Bowl *
The innate ability to adapt to constant change became second nature to Auzoyah Alufohai at a young age.
Originally born in Houston, Alufohai moved around quite a bit as a child. His father, Fola, was an engineer, and often held various positions for different companies. When Auzoyah was merely a year and a half, Fola relocated his family to his native of Nigeria, where they would remain for nine years.
The family would then spend three years in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In fact, it was actually in Malaysia that Auzoyah fell in love with the game of basketball. What initially began as a hobby playing with friends as a ten-year-old, ultimately turned into a passion. Auzoyah even joined an AAU basketball league, his first experience playing organized sports.
Three years later, the next stop would be Doha, Qatar, in the Middle East. This move, however, would be the one that inspired change. Auzoyah’s mother, Eire, expressed concern over the constant uprooting and did not want her children to keep changing schools. The next destination, however, would provide stability for years to come.
Auzoyah attended the Darlington School, a prestigious boarding school in Rome, Georgia, on a basketball scholarship -- but it wasn’t long before adversity struck again.
“I was placed in the wrong grade,” Alufohai explained. “I was placed in the grade ahead. I was 13 in ninth grade.”
Though his classroom struggles can be attributed to being placed in the wrong grade, Alufohai failed to maintain the required GPA and was forced to relocate once again. He would eventually find the ideal fit in Alpharetta High School (Alpharetta, Ga.). In Alpharetta, Alufohai stayed with his uncle, who was his lead guardian in America.
Being a sophomore with freshman credits already put Alufohai at a disadvantage, and he constantly found himself trying to play catch up in the classroom. Academically ineligible to play basketball his first two years at Alpharetta, Alufohai began to notice a significant weight increase that accompanied his hulking 6-foot-4 frame. Little did he know how taking a simple leap of faith would alter the course of his life the following season.
“My senior year came around, and I was finally eligible to play sports,” Alufohai recalled. “My high school coach, Jason Dukes -- and pretty much the whole school -- were on me about playing play football. So, I gave it a shot and I loved it ever since.”
Since Alufohai was so much more physically imposing than his peers, he was instantly dominant on the gridiron.
“In high school, I was bigger, stronger, and faster than everybody else,” Alufohai acknowledged. “Playing defensive line, all they really told me to do was ‘See ball, get ball,’ so there wasn’t much technique involved with anything. I just had to get in the stance, get off the ball, and make a play.”
Alufohai managed to salvage his one year of eligibility and even garnered interest from the likes of Auburn and North Carolina. While the formidable Division I programs ultimately ended up pulling their offers for academic reasons, Kennesaw State, Western Carolina, and Cincinnati opted to stay in the mix and take a chance on the one-year phenom. Still relatively new to the game of football, Alufohai chose Kennesaw State because they were a first-year program.
“My first year, we weren’t going to have a season,” Alufohai explained. “So, I had time to mature and grow and not be thrown into the fire of college football.”
Arriving on campus at nearly 360 pounds, Alufohai spent his freshman season practicing, adjusting to the collegiate level – and taking extreme measures to shed excess weight. With help from Kennesaw State’s strength and conditioning coach Jim Kiritsy, Alufohai would wake up at 5 AM every morning, implementing boxing as an integral part of his weight loss regimen, as well as spending 45 minutes on the Jacob’s Ladder. Alufohai’s primary focus was to lose 30 pounds; he approached each day with one goal in mind: Get in better shape.
Alufohai saw action in 18 games at nose tackle over his first two seasons, mostly in reserve duty, amassing 16 tackles (1.5 for loss) and a half-sack. He went on to start all 14 games as junior in 2017, however, registering 31 tackles (1.5 for loss).
As fate would have it, adversity would strike again, as Alufohai suffered an injury in fall camp, and was slated to miss the entirety of his senior season. Kennesaw State head coach Brian Bohannon and Alufohai sent out an appeal to the NCAA in hopes of getting a medical redshirt year, but the NCAA did not oblige.
Instead, they stated that due to the redshirt designation Alufohai was given as a freshman, he was ineligible to receive a medical redshirt. In other words, if Alufohai wished to play football in his final semester, he would have to drop down a level. After visits to West Alabama, Lenoir-Rhyne, and West Georgia, Alufohai decided on West Georgia – the luxury of playing close to home and connection he had with linebackers coach J.R. Dorman made it an easy decision.
Dorman, who recruited Alufohai to West Georgia, coached with Bohannon and Kennesaw State defensive line coach Liam Klein at Georgia Tech.
“My initial impression was that he’s the size of a door,” Dorman recalled. “He’s a grown man; he’s what an NFL type defensive lineman looks like.”
Located in Carrollton, Ga., the University of West Georgia is a Division II powerhouse known for seeing their NFL influence grow every year. Under the leadership of head coach David Dean, the 2018 Gulf Coast Conference Co-Coach of the year, West Georgia has gone 25-11, including two playoff appearances. With four alumni currently in the NFL, it makes for an attractive destination for next-level talent.
Alufohai proved to be a dominant force for the West Georgia Wolves last season, compiling 31 tackles (4 for loss), two sacks, and three forced fumbles. Of the 32 NFL teams, 31 of them made the trip to Carrollton to visit with Alufohai last season, including upwards of 50 scouts. The winding path that was seemingly obstructed at every turn was about to lead him to uncharted territory that even he couldn’t have imagined.
“We had just finished practice,” Alufohai explains, “and I’m on my way to go get some food. I get a call from coach Dorman saying, ‘Hey, I have something in the office that you might like.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean, coach?’ And he’s like, ‘You got an invite from the East-West Shrine Bowl.’ I bust out in tears, said forget the food, and went straight to the office. I’m in the office talking things out with coach Dorman and just cherishing the moment. My whole life – everything -- my injury, my dad passing two years ago – it all just came back. It’s definitely been a crazy ride.”
From the moment that Alufohai stepped on to Tropicana Field for the first practice, he looked like he belonged. The only thing separating him from the array of SEC, ACC, and Pac-12 talent was the decal on the side of his helmet. Later, when he lined up for team drills, Alufohai then proved he belonged.
The West Georgia product flashed his incredible strength at the point of attack, used his leverage to his advantage, and displayed the active hands required to consistently win his 1-on-1 battles. Though he tweaked his ankle late in the week and was unable to play in the game, the injury is considered to be minor.
After an impressive week in St. Petersburg, Alufohai now turns his attention to his pro day preparation, where he will be training at Chip Smith Performance Systems. West Georgia’s pro day is currently slated for March 10.
While the burly defensive tackle is versatile enough to fit any NFL defense, he could benefit going to a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars -- a team known for developing talent along the defensive line. Alufohaia stout run defender, is tailor-made for a Jaguars front that has seemingly tried everything to fix their porous run defense. Still considered a raw talent, Alufohai should thrive as a complementary run defender early in his career, while refining some of the skills that he showed in Shrine Bowl practices.
Whichever team is lucky enough to land the well-traveled defensive lineman, will not only be adding a potentially dominant player but a high-quality human being as well.
“His work ethic, and his drive and want-to is unbelievable,” Dorman said. “He is going to do everything he needs to do, and do it the right way, to put himself in the best situation to be successful. I know he’s extremely hungry to get to that next level, and I truly believe that kid is going to play somewhere at the next level.”