Monday, September 5, 2011

Heavy heart: Brother’s memory motivates Tunde Bakare

Kansas linebacker Tunde Bakare, right, comes in to tackle McNeese State receiver Darius Carey along with KU cornerback Isiah Barfield during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 at Kivisto Field.

Kansas linebacker Tunde Bakare, right, comes in to tackle McNeese State receiver Darius Carey along with KU cornerback Isiah Barfield during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 at Kivisto Field.


Studying the box score in Mrkonic Auditorium after Kansas University’s 42-24 victory against McNeese State on Saturday night, junior linebacker Tunde Bakare searched for what he believed should’ve been half a sack on his stat line.

It wasn’t there.

It’s fitting, considering Bakare was playing with half a heart. The other half was with his older brother, Omoniyi, who, at age 22, was shot and killed while riding in a black Dodge Avenger late May 13 in West Virginia, two weeks before Bakare reported to Kansas for summer workouts.

Bakare, 20, has spent the past few months turning to football when the pain has become too much to handle. Never was that more true than Saturday, when Bakare was on the brink of living out a childhood dream but somehow kept thinking of how much the situation did not feel complete without Omoniyi there.

“It was real emotional, coming out playing this game, because it was bigger than just a game,” Bakare said. “My brother was like my best friend; all he wanted me to do was come to Kansas. That’s why I came here.”

His brother’s influence also helps explain why Bakare plays the way he does: fast, furious and with great passion.

When Bakare, 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, from Forest Park High in Woodbridge, Va., arrived at KU, he dreamed about honoring his brother’s memory while playing the game they both loved.

Omoniyi, a standout running back in his day at Woodbridge’s Hylton High, went on to play college ball at Fairmont State University in West Virginia. He wore No. 34 throughout his playing career, so, naturally, Bakare, who wore 21 at Highland Community College, wanted to wear his brother’s number when he got to Kansas.

But the number was already taken by linebacker Huldon Tharp, so Bakare opted for No. 17 and routinely incorporated the No. 34 into his haircuts.

“I’ve never worn 17 in my life,” Bakare said. “But when I got 17, my dad told me that God does those things for a reason. And then my friend told me it’s crazy how 17 times two is 34. So 17 for me plus him equals 34.”

It’s more than just a number for Bakare. It’s another way to remember his brother.

Not that he has any trouble doing that. In addition to pictures hanging around his room and countless memories of better days constantly racing through his mind, Bakare says he still actually feels his brother’s presence from time to time.

He felt Omoniyi with him before Saturday’s game, when his nerves were raging before he took the field.

He even felt him out there at linebacker, sometimes during live action.

“I did,” he said. “I felt myself doing some things, and I thought, ‘Dang, that wasn’t me on that play. That was Omoniyi.’ I think about him all the time. Every day, I’m gonna give it all I got because it’s all for him.”

With the emotion of playing his first game since his brother’s death spiking his adrenaline, Bakare said his initial taste of Div. I college football was everything he hoped it would be, particularly because the Jayhawks won.

“It felt amazing,” he said. “I think that’s the best experience of my life. Ever since I was a little kid, all I ever talked about was Div. I, and to come out that first play and hear the crowd, I was just like, ‘Man.’ I wanted to soak it all in.”

As for that stat sheet Bakare was studying, it listed seven tackles for KU’s new linebacker, three solo and four assists. Not bad for a debut, he said. But not nearly good enough for a guy now playing for two.

“Some people think of it as a job. You dread it sometimes,” Bakare said. “But to me, I love it. Football’s my life, and I want to leave everything I got on the field every time. If I do good enough, I can get people to recognize who he was, too. It’s not just about me.”


Steve Yeakel 6 years, 8 months ago

Very inspiring Tunde, I am so sorry for your loss and will be rooting for you this year. Great article Matt.

Chris Bailey 6 years, 8 months ago

I was so excited to see Bakare take the field. It was so amazing to see him out there. I feel like I know many of the players well already. I really loved watching him play and when they took the field he was one of the first players I noticed. So glad you came to Kansas young man! I bet your brother was/is so proud of you as well! So sorry for your loss. Let the Jayhawk nation wrap their collective arms around you for you will now always be a Jayhawk! God Bless young man! May your brother rest in peace and may his spirit remain with you all the days of your life football or not! Rock Chalk!

ahpersecoachingexperience 6 years, 8 months ago

A name on the jersey would of been great for those of us watching online. Heck, even a half of a name would of worked!

Dan Harris 6 years, 8 months ago

For once I agree with you apher, I just don't get the no name on the back of the jerseys!

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

Was noticing the USC players were nameless against the gophers as well. I wonder how many other teams have nameless players. Maybe we'll just have to invest a little more time into learning who the players are.

Ethan Berger 6 years, 8 months ago

Learn there names, its really not that hard.

Kevin Studer 6 years, 8 months ago

Learn the difference between their and there. It's really not that hard.

Ethan Berger 6 years, 8 months ago

It's a message board bro. All I'm to aphers is if the names on the names on the back (or lack of) really bother you, then do something about it and learn their names. But a punk like you probably doesn't understand that...

Funhawk 6 years, 8 months ago

Two teams playing a game on ESPN right now, Miami and Maryland. Neither team's uniforms have the players' names. Get over it.

panalytic 6 years, 8 months ago

Our thoughts and prayers are with you Tunde.

KU_Alumn_2000 6 years, 8 months ago

Tunde - I was rooting for you to make the starting lineup the day you committed to Kansas...especially after hearing how fast you are. Think there was an article that mentioned your 40 was ran at a pace of 4.3 at one point.

Sorry to hear about your brother...hope there are some positives that come from it.

Ahpers - You've made some funny comments in the past...and I don't normally take your comments seriously. But given the emotion of this article and what it means to picked the wrong time to throw a negative comment into the message boards. You really showed your self-centered personality on this one...and all respect for you lost.

Kevin Studer 6 years, 8 months ago

Not that I am a huge defender of Apherse, but come on. The negative remarks had nothing to do with Tunde or his situation. Methinks you are being a bit too sensitive about this one.

ahpersecoachingexperience 6 years, 8 months ago

Eeeeeeeeeeeeasy turbo. It's not like I went mangino on the kid.

Jayhawkgurl 6 years, 8 months ago

I've just started reading these and that "ahpers" person is a real treat, I have gotten to where I skip over their comments, they seem very redundant.

Randy Bombardier 6 years, 8 months ago

He is going to have a heck of a career. His brother is going to be proud of what he accomplishes.

phi4life940 6 years, 8 months ago

This guy is going to be great. I hope we shock some people this year. If we dont do well this year, we will for sure compete in the years to come with all these great young players.

Rock Chalk Omoniyi

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