When Oluwole Betiku takes the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time, he will be nearly 8,000 miles and an 18-hour flight away from his home in Nigeria.
That’s why the Gardena (Calif.) Serra defensive end was adamant about finding a family environment when searching for a college to attend. After enrolling at in January, Betiku is sure he found exactly what he was looking for.
“I don't think it could be any better than this,” Betiku said. “I just feel at home. Sometimes I can be here for three straight weeks where I don't leave this campus and I don't feel like I have to leave. I'm just in this vicinity and it feels great.
“I love being a Trojan and I love being a part of the Trojan family.”
With his broad shoulder and even wider smile, 6-foot-3, 250-pound freshman has quickly become a known figure on campus.
“Every day I walk down the streets from the cafeteria [workers] to the security guards to the cleaners to the janitors...the teachers they just know me,” Betiku said. “I'm friends with everyone. They all know me. The African guy. The Nigerian guy.”
This fall, Betiku is also trying to become known on the field. He showed a couple of glimmers of his potential during the spring, but spent more time learning than performing as he transitions to an outside linebacker role in Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defense.
He didn’t have an immediate impact in the spring, but the experience was invaluable for Betiku.
“I just thank God. It was a great opportunity to get inducted into the Trojan family and get to know my teammates at another stage. Just learn the plays.
“I had to adjust to the college life and getting used to being an everyday college football player and not complain. Just doing what the coaches tell me to do. So it really helped me. Now I'm coming out here and it just feels like a normal day to me.”
The coaches have noticed a distinct difference as well.
“The progression from him from the 15 practices in spring until now is light years,” head coach Clay Helton said. “He's not a finished product...nowhere near, but his upside is tremendous. We're just going to need to go through the rest of camp and see how much more he progresses.”
Betiku could easily dominate high school offensive linemen with his physical tools. His combination of speed and brute strength made him a nightmare. From the defensive end position, he amassed 70 tackles, including 28 for a loss with 17 sacks.
But in the spring, he quickly learned that he was no longer in high school. Instead of an offensive tackle that might weigh less than him, he now had to find a way to get around mountains like Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler.
“College football is different from high school. When I got here, I thought I knew I was playing football, but when I came here I really knew I had to be at the right place, know my assignments and know how to do my job.
“The difference between Zach and the guys I played in high school…it's a big difference,” Betiku said. “It's just different strength levels, but I've been in the weight room since spring. It's a big jump for me.
“At first when I came, it was a little overwhelming just working out every day and running with the team, but it was really good that I came early because I've lifted with these guys; I've trained with these guys and I've adjusted to the whole scheme and I'm playing faster than I played in the spring.
Playing linebacker is still a work in process. No longer is Betiku playing with his hand on the ground and just eyeing the snap of the football before charging off the line with a singular focus of getting to the quarterback. Now, he is standing up in a two-point stance and having to read plays. He has more responsibility but enjoys having a wider scope of the field when a play begins to develop.
One area he has been working hard has been his initial step out of the two-point stance for his pass rush. Despite a foot injury in the summer, he has put in a lot of effort to eliminate any false steps or hesitations that could be the difference between a sack and a near miss. And getting a sack off the edge against USC’s offensive tackles is becoming quite an accomplishment.
The best players seek out the best competition to make themselves better and Betiku is loving every minute of being at USC. He understands he is being pushed to get better every time he tries to get around a guy like Banner that has allowed one sack in his career.
“I mean it's beautiful. That's why I came to USC in the first place to compete against the best. I know that when you strive and compete against the best, then you meet other players that aren't as good as these players, it's easy. I'm going against first round draft picks every day and I know I can go against any other player in the world.”
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