It’s hard to miss offensive lineman Babatunde Aiyegbusi at Vikings training camp. At 6-foot-9, 351 pounds, the offensive tackle is like a small planet and defenders have to pack a lunch to get around him. He stands out in a crowd because it doesn’t matter the size of the crowd, he’s towering above it.
Aiyegbusi has enjoyed the attention he has received from fans because, when you are able to dwarf behemoths like Brandon Fusco and John Sullivan, you tend to get noticed. He has been asked for photos with fans about as often as Adrian Peterson – often creating a humorous photo standing next to a small child, a young woman or what passes for an average full-grown man.
He realizes he is something of an oddity to the fans that line the practice fields in Mankato, but he has quickly come to learn that Vikings fans are passionate and not shy about making photo requests.
“I feel like the Vikings fans are the most crazy guys in the league,” Aiyegbusi said. “Every day after practice people are wanting pictures me because I’m a big guy and a lot bigger than most of them. It’s a great feeling to know that they know who you are and want to get a picture with you.”
For those unfamiliar with Aiyegbusi’s journey to the NFL, it’s not your typical story. The 27-year-old native of Olesnica, Poland played 2013 in the Polish Football League for the Wroclaw Giants and spent last season with the Dresden Monarchs of the German Football League, proving that the Vikings not only beat the bushes for prospects throughout the country, but throughout the world.
While Aiyegbusi is an attraction for the fans, when it comes to trying to live out his longshot dream of making a NFL roster, he is all business. He has learned in Europe how to maul and neutralize defenders, but he is quickly catching on to the level of violence and physicality that is a daily part of the NFL, even in training camp practices where heavy hitting is discouraged.
“This is not a game for soft boys,” Aiyegbusi said. “We are here to compete and it’s all business for the players who are looking to make the team. We smash the crap out of each other out there. If the coaches start talking nice to you, you start to get soft. We are all tough guys, especially on the line of scrimmage. You have little fights on every single play. When you’re competing, you’re trying to dominate the other player, so it isn’t fun and games.”
He has found out that the bumps and bruises that are typical of training camp are a little more excessive than what he used to because the level of talent and competition is such a dramatic jump from what he has been accustomed to.
At the same time, he is wearing his little aches and pains as badges of honor as he continues to try to make an impression on the coaching staff to make it easier for him to stick around in an attempt to play in the NFL.
“I’m a little banged up right now, but that happens when you first start having practices,” Aiyegbusi said. “I’m still trying to get the job done and take away as much from these practices as I can. It’s a great feeling to be here and keep learning stuff that is new every day.”
His learning curve is a little more pronounced than most. The typical NFL offensive lineman has spent three, four or five years at a major college program, many of which run similar schemes to what the Vikings run. For Aiyegbusi, it’s all new to him and he’s trying to keep caught up as much as possible so as not to fall behind mentally.
He has asked a lot of questions of his coaches and teammates and tried to take in their knowledge and apply it on the field. As a player on the low end of the depth chart, he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to make plays on the field, but he’s hopeful that his technique and the intangibles he brings will help him along as he tries to keep pace with the teaching moments that happen in practice and in film study.
“I’ve spent a lot of time watching film and being in the meeting room with the coaches,” Aiyegbusi said. “This is a great time for us because we get to work. As a group, we don’t get a lot reps, so we have to do mental reps on the sideline and watch the guys on the field. It’s a long day’s work every day, but it’s worth it.”
Aiyegbusi remains one of the long shots to make the final roster, but as long as he keeps going out to prove himself worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster or the practice squad, his NFL dream still has a chance to be realized.
He is far from a polished product, but he can see the incremental improvements he has made from OTAs to minicamp to training camp and is dedicated to continue to improve and make the decision on whether to keep him or not more difficult for the Vikings’ coaching staff and front office.
“The improvement is coming, but I know I have a long way to go,” Aiyegbusi said. “The longer I’m here, the more things there are that I can work on and improve. It’s not easy, but I am willing to learn. The coaching staff is working hard with me and I’m willing to learn to achieve the goals I have to play in the NFL.”