First-time football player makes a splash

Andrew Pearson
The Asheville Citizen-Times

Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney was being complimentary when he likened Wale Ogundeyi to a boxed-up table.

All the pieces are there, they just need to be put together. Easy for Swinney to say. He doesn’t have to learn not only a new position, but a new game.

Wale Ogundeyi, whose first name is pronounced “Wally” is a rising senior at Asheville Christian Academy and hails from Nigeria.

He had never formally played football until a few months ago. Since ACA doesn’t offer the sport, Ogundeyi has been practicing as a defensive end with the Carolina Gladiators independent team.

“I like the sport a lot,” Ogundeyi said. “It’s not easy playing defensive end, but I like to be physical. I really enjoy that aspect of it.”

Ogundeyi’s size is extraordinary (he is 6-foot-8, 245 pounds) with strength to match. He set a school record in the shot put (38-8) for the Lions track team back in March.

Mars Hill ponied up a scholarship offer in football before ever seeing Ogundeyi play a game. And he’s been invited to a couple days of camp at Clemson, where Ogundeyi has gotten positive feedback from Swinney and his coaching staff., a website devoted to Clemson athletics, even devoted a story to Ogundeyi’s initial visit to campus.

“It really inspires me more and makes we want to do my best,” Ogundeyi said. “When people believe in me, it makes me wants to prove myself.”

Ogundeyi has lived with an ACA host family since October 2013. Amy Long is in charge of international admissions for the Lions. Her husband, Dwayne, has been a longtime announcer for athletic events.

Amy Long said it was about a six-month process to get Ogundeyi over to America. He stays in touch with family and friends in Nigeria through phone calls and other means of communication.

Track was not Ogundeyi’s first taste of athletics at ACA. He has been a post player for the Lions basketball team, too.

“Wale is an extremely hard-working kid and a fantastic student,” ACA basketball coach Andy Ray. “He loves basketball, it just hasn’t been the thing to help him get an (athletic scholarship) and a college education. It’s really admirable to see a kid willing to take another route instead of just being closed-minded about the whole process.”

Ogundeyi and the Gladiators play their first game Aug. 21 at the Carolina Pride. It will be the third season for the Gladiators, an Asheville-based organization that is open to local private and public school students, as well as those who are home-schooled.