RECRUITING: Iowa State’s newest JUCO add holds all the potential

Oluwafunto Akinshilo came to the United States from Nigeria six years ago to get an education and eventually a full-time job. Then, he started playing basketball.

It wasn’t until late into his high school career that Akinshilo tried playing football – and that didn’t stop him from playing junior college football as a 17-year-old.

Meet Iowa State’s newest offensive lineman, whose unique path to Iowa State comes with all the potential a coach could ask for.

“There were no offers coming in for basketball,” Akinshilo said. “I had to realize that not everyone was going to go to the NBA.”

One of Akinshilo’s coaches advised him to go to Leuzinger High School – another California school where he could try playing football and continue with basketball.

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not altered the season, Akinshilo’s path may have included more football. However, the now 6-foot-5, 310-pound lineman got on the field.

Akinshilo’s eyes were focused on getting into the FBS ranks. The route included going to El Camino Junior College at age 17.

“I turned 18 in February, and got to play football in JUCO,” Akinshilo said. “It was different. You’ve got guys that were 21 and 22, fighting for their spots. I didn’t know anything about the game of football, but once I got there, I finally was learning.”

The minute that an athlete completes 12 credit hours, they start their collegiate eligibility in the NJCAA.

Akinshilo played his only high school season – a handful of games – in the fall before playing for El Camino during a pushed-back spring year.

“After I got to the JUCO level and got coached, everything came easier to me,” Akinshilo said. “A lot of coaches just say that I’m blessed to be as athletic as I am. It helped out for sure.”

Akinshilo learned the ins and outs of the game and being an offensive lineman, which eventually earned him a scholarship to Iowa State.

Today, the 18-year-old JUCO transfer is in Ames getting ready for his first FBS season.

“He’s immensely talented,” El Camino coach Gifford Lindheim said. “He’s tall, he can move and he just turned 18 years old a couple of months ago. The sky’s the limit with him.”

So instead of finding the average 9-to-5 in the United States, Akinshilo will chase a career on the football field, with more time to hone his skills than the average recruit.

“We moved out (of Nigeria) – my dad and my brother and I – for a better life and an education,” Akinshilo said. “We were so focused on going to school, getting good grades, doing what we were supposed to do. Then you’ll get a good job… but I was so interested in basketball.”

His love for sports and work ethic towards the things he was interested in translated to Akinshilo becoming a JUCO recruit and committing to Iowa State with other offers from Mississippi State, Boise State and a late push from USC to land him.

“They didn’t try to sugarcoat nothing,” Akinshilo said. “(Offensive line coach Jeff) Myers and Coach Campbell were guys that kept it real with me and you could see that. When I got to campus, everything just looked right and felt right. That’s why I chose Iowa State.”

The potential of an 18-year-old in a high level of athletics is already high.

With Akinshilo’s route of getting there, it may just be even higher.

“I think he’s an NFL talent,” Lindheim said. “If Iowa State does a good job developing him, there’s no limit to how good he can be.”