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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Former Maverick linebacker tackles NFL career with Minnesota Vikings

Former UNO Maverick offensive linebacker Olayiwola Kendae “Kenny” Onatolu could be on the road to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami with the Minnesota Vikings.

But, Onatolu wasn’t always a Vikings fan. He started out as a San Francisco 49ers fan at age 10, when football became a part of his life.

“I used to always watch it on TV and play outside,” Onatolu said, “but I actually started playing in peewees and…just kind of carried on from there.”

Born in Chicago, Onatolu even spent three years in his parents’ home country of Nigeria.

“It wasn’t anything what people think,” Onatolu said. “The only reason we ended up leaving [was] because the president at the time was a little corrupt, so my parents didn’t want me and my brother raised in that situation.”

Onatolu eventually moved back to the United States and grew up in Omaha, where he played high-school football for the Papillion-LaVista Monarchs.

Onatolu almost couldn’t even play high-school football because of some doctors, who were close family friends.

“They didn’t let their sons play football just because they’ve done surgery, ACL surgeries, broken legs and all of that kind of stuff,” he said.

After some heavy persuasion with his twin brother Taiwo, who was his teammate at UNO and now a graduate assistant on the Maverick football staff, Onatolu was able to launch his football career.

Onatolu would go on to earn second-team, all-state honors and set a school record with 326 rushing yards in one game. As a high-school senior, he rushed for 1,500 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He also played in the Nebraska Shrine Bowl, an all-star football game for graduating high-school seniors in Nebraska.

After high school, Onatolu went on to be a four-year starter for the UNO Mavericks from 2002-2006 with his brother.

Kenny Onatolu seen as a UNO Maverick (Michelle Bishop/The Gateway).

“It was definitely tough with the coaches,” he said. “We put in a lot of time and hard work, but that just made it a lot easier for me when I went down to Canada.”

Onatolu, a redshirt freshman, started as a strong safety in 2002 and shifted to offensive linebacker status in 2005, earning all-North Central Conference first team honors along the way. He was also named second-team, All-American by CollegeSportsReport.com and was named second-team, all-region by Daktronics to name a few.

Onatolu admitted that his brother was the better linebacker of the two.

“He was actually better than me coming up,” he said. “Even at UNO, Taiwo was always the number one linebacker.”

In high school, Taiwo earned first-team, all-state player and earned 133 tackles as a senior linebacker. Also an emerging redshirt freshman for the Mavericks, he earned second-team, all North Central Conference, was named the NCC’s most valuable linebacker and went on to earn All-America honors by D2Football.com to name a few.

Taiwo Onatolu seen as a UNO Maverick (Photo courtesy: unofootball.com).

However, Taiwo shared the titled all-NCC linebacker with his brother in 2003.

“He’s still coaching me,” Onatolu said. “He critiques me, tells me what I need to do and I’m still learning from him.”

After graduating in 2006 with a degree in communication, Onatolu would go undrafted the following year. The Edmonton Eskimos in Canada eventually picked him up in 2007.

“Statistically, it’s hard for you to even get an opportunity coming out of a small school like UNO,” he said. “I kind of traveled the long road going to Canada first.”

As a rookie, Onatolu recorded eight tackles and a sack for the Eskimos. He then recorded 59 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries in 2008.

“It’s a little more fast-paced because it’s more of an offensive game, more like arena football,” Onatolu said. “It’s still football in the end. It’s still running and tackling and catching and scoring.”

The Minnesota Vikings then picked up Onatolu as a free agent on Dec. 31, 2008.

Onatolu said his schedule includes playing games on Sunday, watching film on Mondays and workdays Wednesday through Friday.

Tuesdays are our day offs, he said.

“But, I always like to go in and get another workout in,” Onatolu added.

He said his teammates give him a little guff for playing in the Midwest.

“Everyone has their stories because most of the guys all played DI and a lot of them played against each other,” Onatolu said. “I could never reference to anybody…so they kind of make fun of me a little bit because of where I went.”

Teammate Brett Favre, however, is a “good dude.”

“He’s another one of the guys on the team,” Onatolu said. “You just watch him practice and…you just try to learn from him and see the little things he does.”

Kenny Onatolu seen as a Minnesota Viking (Photo courtesy: Espn.com).

Under Favre’s leadership, the team hopes to face-off against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts or Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Onatolu said there is still too much football left to be thinking ahead of the game.

“Obviously, we have a great opportunity to get there and to win it,” he said. “We just go week by week and the opportunity is going to present itself and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”

Although the Vikings are at the forefront of Super Bowl fever, Onatolu still has Maverick Mojo.

“I keep tabs on the outcomes of the games and how they are doing and certain players that come in,” he said. “I pay attention to the Huskers, too, a little bit, but I mostly pay attention to UNO.”

Until this day, competition hasn’t surfaced between the two brothers.

“We just always wanted one of us to make it,” Onatolu said, “and one of us actually ended up making it and that’s all we ever wanted.”

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