Olugbode bowing out as sensational senior
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