In recent years, the pre-draft process seems to center around an exclusive conglomerate of blue-chip prospects and upside-laden sleepers that are poised to take the NFL by storm as rookies. There are many players, however, that get largely overlooked throughout the process for a multitude of reasons, only to emerge in the months leading up to draft day. Former TCU running back Sewo Olonilua is one of the players that has the athleticism and intangibles to alter his course over the next couple of months, making himself an intriguing prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Early Years
Since he was eight years old, Olonilua’s life has revolved around the game of football.
“My brother brought me into the sport because he started playing in seventh grade,” Olonilua said. “He’s six years older than me, so he was kind of a teacher. He brought me around his friends, so I was always playing with them.”
From the moment Olonilua arrived at Kingwood High School (Kingwood, TX) as a freshman, the towering running back instantly assumed the role of offensive centerpiece. Following a prolific sophomore season, scouts began to flock to Kingwood in the fall to catch a glimpse of Olonilua — who spent his final two seasons playing both running back and safety.
As a senior, Olonilua rushed for 1,073 yards and 14 touchdowns, closing out a stellar high school career that allowed him the opportunity to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Olonilua received the Glenn Davis Army Award for his gridiron dominance.
Coming out of Kingwood High School, Olonilua was in high demand; he was a four-star prospect, the top-rated athlete in the state of Texas, and the fourth-ranked athlete nationally. Torn between TCU, LSU, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma, Olonilua ultimately chose TCU, due to his close-knit relationships with many of the players.
“Coach [DeMontie] Cross at TCU,” Olonilua recalled, “he came to a game — because they recruited me on defense at first — and was like, ‘I don’t know, you might have something at running back.'”
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Texas Christian University
An early enrollee at TCU, Olonilua already had a decided advantage over his competition; he participated in spring workouts and was among the standout performers in the 2016 spring game.
Though he was merely one of a multitude of talented running backs that TCU rostered, Olonilua made the most of his limited opportunities as a freshman, carrying the ball 15 times for 122 yards and a touchdown over 13 games. He capped off his freshman campaign by making his first collegiate start against Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
With his confidence brimming following a freshman season in which he increasingly became more comfortable each week, Olonilua entered his sophomore season with significantly fewer names in the mix for carries. This time, he would serve as a complementary third option behind primary ball carriers Kyle Hicks and Darius Anderson. In 14 games, Olonilua logged 64 carries for 330 yards and seven touchdowns, while adding 19 receptions for 166 yards as a pass-catcher.
By the time his junior season rolled around, Olonilua was nearly in full control of the Horned Frogs backfield, leading the team with 135 carries for 635 yards and two touchdowns, as well as 15 catches out of the backfield. While his breakout junior campaign essentially put him on the map, Olonilua convincingly announced his arrival to the college football world with a dominant performance in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, where he set a TCU bowl record, rushing for 194 yards and a touchdown. He was named the game’s Offensive Most Valuable Player for his efforts.
“We went in that game, and we couldn’t really throw, so we had to run pretty much every play,” Olonilua explained. “On 32 carries, I went for 194 — I like that kind of game.”
The Horned Frogs rushing attack featured more of a ‘thunder and lightning’ approach last season, with the hulking 6-foot-3, 240-pound Olonilua providing the thunder. Though he was narrowly edged out in carries by the shifty Darius Anderson, Olonilua amassed 134 carries for 537 yards and eight touchdowns, to go along with his 24 receptions and 114 yards out of the backfield.
After a four-year career that totaled 2,007 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns in a limited capacity, Olonilua received an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he would have the opportunity to showcase his unique skill set to the myriad of evaluators on-hand.
2020 NFL Scouting Combine
When the decorated running back group takes center stage at the NFL Scouting Combine next Friday, Olonilua figures to stand out in more ways than one.
For one, the Kingwood native is likely to measure out as one of the top players at his position. In fact, the now-232-pound Olonilua was credited with a freakish 78 7/8 wingspan last month at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Another area of distinction for Olonilua is his remarkable foot speed and agility for a player of his build. That, he says, can be attributed to the work he’s put in with renowned football trainer Rischad Whitfield, who has been working with Olonilua since he was a sophomore in high school.
“Rischad is always going to push me,” Olonilua said. “He’s going to critique everything; he wants everything perfect. I try to live up to that high standard.”
Despite a somewhat limited college resume, Olonilua has the athleticism and measurables to leave a lasting impression on teams at the NFL Scouting Combine. If he can put it all together, it is feasible to believe that he can leave Indianapolis as one of the biggest winners next week.
“I definitely think I’m going to surprise a lot of people,” Olonilua said.
To me, Olonilua compares most figuratively to New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell, in that he shares the same innate patience at the line of scrimmage. Often thought of as strictly a power runner, Olonilua has some finesse to his game; his ability to elude defenders and cut on a dime as he plots to turn the corner is truly something to behold. His vision is outstanding, and it only takes the smallest crease for the bruising running back to accelerate through and produce big yardage.
While it wasn’t exactly a major point of emphasis in high school, Olonilua made tremendous strides as a receiver in TCU’s spread offense and offers intriguing ability in that department at the next level. Olonilua’s fluidity as a pass-catcher was something that he had been working on since his high school days, from utilizing the JUGS machine and perfecting minor details, to tirelessly running routes under the blazing Texas sun with Whitfield.
A remarkably durable player over his career, Olonilua has the intangibles to evolve into a three-down workhorse at the next level. If Olonilua performs well next week, he has a realistic chance at improving his draft stock, effectively entrenching himself as a viable early Day 3 option.