(WCIA ) — Oluwole Betiku Jr. hasn’t been home in seven years — and it’s a sacrifice that is finally paying off. The former Illini is now getting to live out his NFL dream.
“Just to put on an NFL jersey, and just to put on NFL helmet is just so surreal for me, and some days I still can’t believe it. I just started from walking down the streets saying I wanted to play football. I’ve sacrificed my whole life to be in that position.”
The Nigeria native left home in high school to pursue an athletic career and a better life. After years of training and hard work, Betiku signed a deal with the New York Giants in April as an undrafted free agent.
“For me it’s just a great opportunity, it’s why I started playing football in the first place,” says Betiku. “I just kept working at every sport, believing one day I was going to play sports on the big stage, and I always worked hard believing it was going to happen.”
Betiku came to the United States without ever playing on a football team, but he worked his way up to become a 5-star recruit, signing with USC out of high school. He came to Champaign as a grad transfer in 2019, and led the Illini with nine sacks, despite missing three games due to injury.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end has one more season of eligibility, but declared for the 2020 NFL draft at the end of the 2019 season instead. Betiku didn’t get drafted, but says he never lost hope.
“The draft is a really tricky process, and a very stressful process. As an athlete you can get caught up in that. At the end of the day it’s your story, only you can write your story, no other person can write your story for you. You never know what’s going to work out, you just got to trust yourself, and work as hard as you can, and you just have the keep visualizing being great.”
Even though he’s a long way out from a true off-season, Betiku says when that time comes, he will finally take a trip back home, and hold a football camp for young athletes in Nigeria.