Babatunde Aiyegbusi made the switch from left to right tackle in training camp, but the bigger switch came months before that when the Minnesota Vikings decided to give the Polish player a shot at the NFL level.
The towering 6-foot-9 tackle is raw, as you would expect, and he knows it.
“I’ve got my ups and downs. I think I made a big step technique-wise,” he said as the Vikings were leaving Mankato earlier this month. “I had a few good practices, which is a big step for me. I’m trying to take one step at a time and every practice is a different day the next day. I’m trying to improve every time I step on the field. This is it. This is a great time to learn for me and I’m trying to learn everything.”
But it’s clear that his NFL experience won’t be unappreciated even if he doesn’t make the Vikings’ final roster. For “Babs,” there is so much more at stake than a win-loss tally on the roster battles.
For him, his shot at the NFL is about learning the NFL game, from the techniques he is trying to apply on the field to how a practice, a roster – even a league – is formed. He has been shipping that information back to his beloved Poland as he attempts to increase the quality of play there.
“I was excited, very excited,” he said of his March 26 signing with the Vikings. “This is top of my dreams. This is the thing I’ve been dreaming of. For me, it was the next chapter in my life and I was trying to get somewhere better. After 10 years, I get to go to the NFL. So now it’s only grind. You can’t get any better than this. It’s like the whole family is hyped and all of Poland is supporting me, so I feel pretty good about being here and hopefully I can make it.”
All of Poland may be supporting him, but he is sending support back overseas. That comes in the form of his ever-advancing knowledge of the NFL.
Babs is only the fifth Polish-born player in NFL history after attending the Academy of Physical Education from 2006-08. He worked in security – who would want to mess with a 6-foot-9, 351-pound giant? – while pursuing his dream of professional football.
First it was the Polish American Football League, where he played for the ironically-name Wroclaw Giants in 2013. There he earned the 2013 PLFA Best Offensive Lineman of the Year and a Polish Championship. Last year, he was with the Dresden Monarchs of the German Football League, advancing to the semifinals of the German Football League playoffs.
And, eventually, after posting his highlights on YouTube, an agent called to see if he would be interested in bringing his imposing frame to the United States.
“I had a few offers from some different leagues, but I’m a family guy,” he said. “I’ve got a wife and kids and you have you look out for them. … But from the moment I got to the pro day in San Antonio, I was like, this is it. This is the time to shine and show what you’ve got, that Big Babs is not only big body but he actually can play football and can develop. This is the big thing – to prove to coaches that I’m developing and stepping forward.”
Although he had been thinking about the NFL for years, he wasn’t sure it was a possibility until “the point I signed up,” he said.
But for him, this about more than Babatunde Aiyegbusi. It’s about bringing the NFL influence to Poland.
“It’s my goal, not only when my career is done. It’s my goal that’s already started,” he said. “I’m already started and working on it to develop a Polish league and help to train young guys and maybe in the future bring more Polish guys, more Polish young players, to high school, to college so they can go step by step with the systems over here. Not like me through the back door and be a little late, get the technique and everything where I’m getting it now, but getting it earlier. Develop not only Polish players, but Polish league.”
When his agent called to gauge his interest in coming to the United States, it wasn’t a simple “yes.” It was “Hell, yes!”
“If there was a chance for the NFL actually, to try myself to see how it is to be here, to see it from the other side, we built a league in Poland so every single clue on how to build a team and league will be helpful for people in Poland. It is already helpful for people in Poland by my information. Whatever happens, I’m happy. People will take some good things out of it.”
‘Babs’ sending NFL influences back to Poland
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