Olug­bode bow­ing out as sen­sa­tional se­nior

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider

boul­der» With the clock tick­ing on a chance for the Colorado foot­ball team to turn an im­pres­sive sea­son into a legacy, the Buf­faloes be­gan study­ing the math.

Lead­ing Utah 20-16 with 11 min­utes left in CU’s reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale, a Pac-12 South Divi­sion cham­pi­onship was hang­ing in the bal­ance. Af­ter a punt, the Utes took over on their 13-yard line. CU needed to rely on its stel­lar de­fense once again.

“Be­fore that se­ries started, (line­backer) Rick Gam­boa and I were talk­ing and Rick said, ‘Thir­teen yards isn’t too far. We can get a pick-six with­out get­ting caught,’ ” CU se­nior line­backer Ken­neth Olug­bode said.

When Gam­boa and Ryan Moeller stripped Utah run­ning back Joe Wil­liams of the ball, it was scooped up by Olug­bode at the 10-yard line. The 13-yard path Gam­boa had pre­dicted had been trimmed, and there was no way any Utah player was catch­ing Olug­bode.

The touch­down re­turn clinched a pro­gram-defin­ing vic­tory that gave the Buffs a divi­sion cham­pi­onship. It also was a mi­cro­cosm of a spe­cial se­nior sea­son for Olug­bode, who re­al­ized po­ten­tial that had been in­ter­rupted at times by in­juries dur­ing his ca­reer. He has 130 tack­les this sea­son, the most by a CU player since 2007.

Olug­bode was named a se­cond-team Al­lAmer­i­can by Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus.

“Ken­neth has al­ways played well,” CU coach Mike Mac­In­tyre said. “His fresh­man year he played on all our spe­cial teams and did well. His sopho­more year he had some ex­cel­lent foot­ball games, and he’s just kept get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter. This year he avoided in­juries. He was healthy in every game. He’s ex­tremely bright. He un­der­stands our de­fense to a T.”

En­ter­ing the Alamo Bowl in San An­to­nio against Ok­la­homa State on Thurs­day, the Cow­boys are tasked with game-plan­ning for a CU line­backer who has be­come well versed in the art of adapt­ing on the fly. Team­mates rave about Olug­bode’s at­ten­tion to de­tail, his grasp of the nu­ances of the po­si­tion.

“It’s re­ally hard to quan­tify the men­tal as­pect of the game, be­ing able to put guys in the right po­si­tion and telling guys where to go and mak­ing the checks based on what they see,” said CU se­nior quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau. “Ob­vi­ously, he makes the tack­les and he’s got­ten picks and turnovers and ev­ery­thing, but he’s a very im­por­tant part of the de­fense. He’s set him­self up to pos­si­bly play at the next level.”

Be­fore the 6-foot-1, 220-pound line­backer

with NFL dreams be­came the con­trol cen­ter of CU’s de­fense, he was con­stantly study­ing the game. That came nat­u­rally as the youngest of three broth­ers, all of whom have played at the FBS level. Olug­bode’s old­est brother, Kyle, was a safety at Stan­ford. The mid­dle brother, Kris, was a run­ning back at Idaho.

Grow­ing up with that kind of ta­lent around Olug­bode helped sharpen his com­pet­i­tive na­ture.

“I was al­ways chas­ing them,” he said. “It would al­ways be in our fam­ily: ‘When I was this age, I did such and such.’ When I got to that age, I had to do some­thing bet­ter. It kind of went like that. But once we got to col­lege, we kind of started work­ing to­gether and help­ing each other out, see­ing dif­fer­ent things. I would go to Kyle’s games all the time at Stan­ford. I’d watch Kris’ game on film. I’d al­ways com­mu­ni­cate back and forth with them.”

The driv­ing force be­hind all three broth­ers was their mother, Josephine. With her sons all play­ing vary­ing dis- tances from the fam­ily’s home in San Jose, Calif., she would make a spread­sheet be­fore each sea­son that charted a plan to see each of them play at var­i­ous points in the sea­son.

“It was crazy how she would bounce around from state to state to see us play. No mat­ter what you did, you had to be the best at what you did,” Olug­bode said of his mother’s mo­ti­vat­ing mes­sage. “It went that way for school too. She’d get up­set with a B-mi­nus. You had to get good grades.”

Olug­bode dreamed of following Kyle to Stan­ford, but that of­fer didn’t come. He com­mit­ted in­stead to San Jose State. But when Mac­In­tyre left the Spartans and took the job at Colorado in 2013, he had no doubt the line­backer had what it took to play at the Pac-12 level. So Olug­bode fol­lowed Mac­In­tyre to Boul­der.

Olug­bode played as a true fresh­man. Then he be­came only the sixth sopho­more to lead CU in tack­les (83 in 2014). As a ju­nior last sea­son, Olug­bode fin­ished third on the team with 80 tack­les, but he dealt with a fright­en­ing in­jury to his leg that caused acute com­part­ment syn­drome, which re­stricts blood flow to the mus­cles and can re­sult in tis­sue trauma. It’s the same in­jury suf­fered by for­mer Bron­cos de­fen­sive back Rahim Moore in 2013.

Olug­bode had to have emer­gency surgery and was forced to miss two games, but he re­turned at the end of his ju­nior sea­son with a shin guard pro­tect­ing the wound. He was de­ter­mined not to miss any play­ing time as a se­nior.

“I give it up to Drew Wil­son, our strength coach,” said Olug­bode, who has started all 13 games on a 10-3 team this sea­son. “A big part of it was how he came in here and changed all our bod­ies. A lot of us have been able to stay re­ally healthy all year.”

The Buffs are ea­ger to wipe away the mem­ory of a 41-10 loss to Wash­ing­ton in the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game. They would be wise to fol­low the lead of Olug­bode, who set a ti­tle-game record with 19 tack­les in the loss to the Huskies, his mo­tor still run­ning on a night when lit­tle went right for CU.

“K.O. gives ev­ery­body con­fi­dence,” said CU cor­ner­back Chi­dobe Awuzie, who trained with Olug­bode when they were high school play­ers in San Jose. “When he makes a play, it re­ally makes you feel good be­cause he’s one of our big-time guys. When he starts mak­ing those plays, it’s like, ‘OK, now we’re go­ing to start fir­ing on all cylin­ders.’ ”

Se­nior line­backer Ken­neth Olug­bode, scor­ing on a fum­ble re­turn against Utah at Fol­som Field on Nov. 26, has 130 tack­les en­ter­ing CU’s Alamo Bowl game against Ok­la­homa State on Thurs­day. Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

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