URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Wole Betiku certainly looks the part. When you’re 6-foot-3, 252-pounds and can bench more than 400, you stick out not wearing a shirt after practice, even in a group full of Division I football players.
“I mean he’ll be one of the first ones we have getting off the bus for sure,” Lovie Smith said.
“Somehow I found myself here, I think it was the plan all along but I like the coaching staff, Coach Lovie and the whole city of Champaign has to offer,” Betiku said. “It’s a big change from Los Angeles to Champaign but I’m loving it.”
Betiku is from Nigeria and grew up playing soccer. He originally came to the United States to play basketball. A coach convinced him to try football his junior year of high school in California, it was the first time he’d ever played the game.
“I broke my wrist my first year playing so I couldnt’ shoot,” Betiku said. “So I just stuck with football.”
That decision ended up working out well. Betiku was a 5-star recruit and the 15th ranked player in the country in the Class of 2016. He landed at USC but only played 14 games in two years, recording just two tackles. A hip injury forced him to redshirt last season but he’s been working out since December and hasn’t had any issues.
“Going from working out everyday to having to retire for 10 months straight, it was really tough,” Betiku said. “Some days I woke up and it felt great, some days I had to take a step back. Just going that back and forth was frustrating because I really wanted to play last season.”
Now the 22-year old is ready to prove himself on the field. And he’ll do it in a position of need for the Illini at defensive end.
“Wole’s a hard worker, he’s doing everything we asked, great teammates, great kid, couldn’t ask for a better person and he’s really working hard,” defensive line coach Austin Clark said.
Betiku says he hopes to be a diplomat once his playing days are over, he already has a degree from USC in international relations.
“I love politics a lot but I don’t want to be politician cause I don’t like to lie, you know?” Betiku said.
For now he’ll just stick to tackling quarterbacks.