The Dallas Cowboys have one of the most passionate fan bases on the planet. But even given that, it would be difficult to find one who watches the team as often and as closely as Kansas left tackle Hakeem Adeniji.
A native of Garland, Texas, Adeniji doesn’t watch his favorite NFL team with the emotion of most Cowboys fanatics. He views with laser focus and to learn lessons he can carry with him.
“He studies (Tyron Smith) the Cowboys’ left tackle,” Kansas offensive line coach Zach Yenser said. “That’s who he wants to be. And he just studies him. He has a desire to be a phenomenal, one of the best. He wants to be the best O-lineman and he lives his life like that.”
Adeniji said he receives cutups of Smith from Yenser. He's as riveted to them as wealthy gamblers are to the the stock-market crawlers on the bottom of their television sets.
“It kind of works out perfectly,” Adeniji said. “I’m a Cowboys fan and he’s the best left tackle in the league. And we kind of play the same, so that’s someone I try to emulate. Our builds, our footwork, the way we play, the way we move kind of fits up.”
A 6-foot-4 sophomore who started all 12 games as a true freshman, switching from right tackle to left tackle in midseason, Adeniji has packed on 25 pounds of muscle, expanding to 290 pounds. Smith, 26, is 6-5, 312.
“Smart, beating people to the spot, physical, just a dominant playing style,” Adeniji said of how Smith plays. “Obviously, he knows what he’s doing. He just makes it look easy, dominating guys with his technique and how he does everything.”
Adeniji initially was bound for Air Force, but his medical waiver was denied because of a cashew allergy and he had to find another school. That’s how Kansas ended up with a student-athlete mature beyond his years.
“Physically, you walk up on Hakeem right now, he just keeps getting bigger, and he’s not fat,” Yenser said. “What makes Hakeem so good and just the type of guy he is — and you can see why he’s an Academy guy — he just has that mentality. He’s a pro. He does everything you ask him to do: how he eats, how he takes care of his body, how he comes up here and watches film.”
Adeniji’s focus on becoming the next Tyron Smith doesn’t keep him from being well-rounded, his position coach said.
“It doesn’t take away from what he does on academics,” Yenser said of Adeniji, who majors in management and leadership.
This year’s KU football team has an interesting intangible quality that teams shedding losing ways need in that some of the most talented players are the most mature and most committed to bettering themselves.
Adeniji, Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Daniel Wise, to name a few of the bigger men in the room, all set great examples of what type of men it takes to win in the Big 12. Efficient dedication plus talent equals confidence. They have the right amount of it.
Adeniji aims to be the next Tyron Smith and believes that he can get there.
“Of course,” he said. “I don’t see why not. We’re all human. As long as you have that mindset, as long as you’re willing to sacrifice everything and work for something, you can get it.”
Sacrifices such as?
“Being disciplined,” he said, “whether it’s skipping 30 minutes of watching a movie to watch extra film or saying no to going out to put in extra work. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes.”
He’s willing and he’s convinced he’s able.
“I know what I want to do,” he said. “I know where I want to get. I’ve done it my whole life. And it’s all about sacrificing to get better.”
He knows where that approach led the Cowboys’ left tackle, and didn’t hesitate when asked about Smith’s contract.
“Eight years, $100 million,” Adeniji said with a smile that will become increasingly familiar to KU football fans over the next three seasons.