Pasadena, Calif. • Bam Olaseni crashes into people.
It’s what he does. It’s his job, one at which he’s quite accomplished, big rig slamming into big rig, again and again and again. He calls it “fun.”
But Utah’s largest man — 6-foot-8, 330 pounds — himself is a human collision, a pileup of flesh and bone and talent and diversity, some of it completely unexpected, a lot of it pretty cool.
For one, the Utes’ senior left tackle is a Brit. Give the man a spot of tea and watch him create open lanes.
He was born and raised in north London, a place he’s proud of, but also one from which he wanted to get away. Not that his life there was terrible. It’s just that he sought a path to a better existence, to more comfort and more success, more money, and he found it — and is still finding it — having climbed straight over and through a small town in Kansas called Garden City, now ascending further in Salt Lake City and this week, here in Pasadena, and also looking forward in the near future to playing for some team, some city, any team, any city in the NFL.
“That’s my purpose,” he says.
Not just finding that path for himself, for his family, but grading road for other international kids who may not want to play soccer or cricket or rugby or put the shot or fling a discus, but, instead, do what he does with such glee — “hit people in the face and body-slam them to the ground” — and with no worries about nasty details of receiving a yellow or red card, or a prison sentence.
Here, it’s all part of the game, a vital, valued part.
“The pure game,” is how he characterizes American football.
It’s a beautiful thing, he figures. For a British athlete, a rare thing, he knows.
There aren’t a lot of top college linemen, nor NFL stars, who talk with the accent Olaseni does, who have his background, who hail from a place that is far from, say, south Florida or L.A. or the American heartland. His size — upper-limit even for the modern game — is just one feature that sets him apart. And it does set him apart. I mean, look at the mountain that is him. The man’s dimensions spread out, up and down, left and right. But there’s also the across-the-pond geography, the inclination to consider things most football players don’t, as well as a web of familial culture that includes vast influences from the Caribbean, from South America and from Africa.
“A mix,” he calls his family tree.
But there’s more.
Such as, he was a skateboarder as a youngster, a pursuit that his sheer size eventually curtailed. Such as, his interest in fashion. It’s something he’s peeked ahead to, once his playing days are over he could see himself as a master clothes-and-shoe designer. Such as, the hip-finery of the jewelry he wears in the form of piercings in his nose and on his face. Such as, the flow of hair. He looks like a dude out of a dread clarifying shampoo commercial.
There’s a lot of stuff going on here, none of it more important to him than Vince Lombardi’s game.
Take it all in, the International Man has style, but he hits like an International-Harvester. He comes from a foreign land, has taken a delayed, different route to football, but loves the game as though he’d had an Orlando Pace poster on his wall as a kid.
There’s something fascinatingly unique about that.
It was in British GQ where a quote from the bespectacled fictional character Paddington Bear was published, the one that goes like this: “In London, everyone is different and that means everyone can fit in.”
Bamidele Olaseni (pronounced bam-ih-deli oh-lah-senny) fits in over there.
And he fits in nicely in SLC, as well.
Not bad for an individual who never played football until he was 19 years old. He learned the game, initially at least, in front of a screen, playing a Madden — rest in peace, John — video game. Shortly thereafter, he stepped onto a field, playing in what amounted to an English recreational league for a club team that called itself the London Blitz.
You can teach raw football basics, even learn some of them in weird ways. Nobody can teach being the size of Big Ben, but for Olaseni that wasn’t enough. At Utah, absorbing the nuances of pass blocking, with the foot movement and balance necessary, almost a passive-aggressive kind of mental immersion, some of it counterintuitive, and the run blocking, punching and pounding guys into the turf, took time. He’s only emerged this season as a Division I star.
That was his intention all along.
Having had an older brother play Division I basketball in the States, Olaseni glanced to America for his future, too. He landed at Utah by way of a partial scholarship at Garden City Community College, located in an agricultural village in western Kansas, a countrified spot where the dust blows over the hills and plains and gifted athletes and coaches go to JC. Notable alums include Tyreek Hill, Corey Dillon, Tyler Rogers, Keith Smart, Gene Keady, Mark Fox and Brent Venables.
Add Bam, who became a raw-but-promising junior college All-American just three years after taking up the game, to the list now. He came to the Utes thereafter, pursued by other top-drawer programs, and was promptly suspended by the NCAA for a misstep that Olaseni still doesn’t understand. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s in the past.”
Whatever it was, it slowed him only temporarily. As his participation in the Rose Bowl completes his college eligibility, with the upcoming showcase East-West Shrine game also in the plans, the 25-year-old will have met his own expectations, recently being named second-team All-Pac-12 for the Utes and considered an authentic professional prospect.
He is convinced of this: That NFL career awaits him.
Academics were important to his parents and to him back in London, but now that Olaseni has seen what his potential is on the field, his focus has shifted to doing everything he can, not just for his Utes teammates, but also in preparation for a lucrative future.
Providing for himself and his family was always the goal.
“I’ll go wherever opportunity takes me,” he says.
Opportunity is what he sees inside the famous old venue about to be occupied by thousands and thousands of Utah fans in Pasadena. It’s there that many eyes will be on the Utes — and Olaseni says it’s a reward he and his teammates have been targeting and have earned through an entire season of diligence. It’s a chance for showcasing, as the big man says it, “what we’ve been working for.”
And that “we,” in his mind, includes more than just the Utes. It’s all the football players born and raised in other countries who love and who are built for playing American football.
“For me,” he says, “it’s about creating an international pathway.”
Olaseni envisions other athletes, from diverse places, from north London to south Timbuktu, watching him play under the Rose Bowl’s bright lights, and having the idea planted in their imaginations that they, too, can do what Bam does.
“I miss being in London,” he says. “But I’m out here doing something …”
“… I came here for a reason and I’m going to do it. I’m trying to set an example for people back home, to show kids that they can come here, work hard, and be successful.”
Playing Bam Olaseni’s pure game.