MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – He was the heart and soul of the St. Thomas defense in a run to the NCAA Championship game last season. Now Ayo Idowu is at least getting a chance, even if temporary, to take his game to the next level.
Idowu is one of the most dominant defensive lineman to play for Glenn Caruso in his five seasons, but the soon-to-be St. Thomas graduate now has a chance to play in the NFL. Despite a couple of different times where it appeared his football career was over, Idowu got a call from the Seattle Seahawks and is headed there this week to try out with the team. There are five practices scheduled over three days, and if he makes it through that series of practices without getting released, he could be signing an NFL contract by the weekend.
He said he's just grateful to have the opportunity.
"It's amazing. I've always thought about playing and it's been my dream," Idowu said. "I ended up at St. Thomas because I didn't get an offer from (Gophers coach Tim) Brewster and I figured my NFL chances were done."
"That's pretty awesome, to have that opportunity is unbelievable," said St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso. "Just to have that chance, I'm sure he'll go into it with everything he has. We're not in that factory, nice that he has those abilities."
Idowu finished his collegiate career as a leader on one of the nation's top defensive units. It was a year where St. Thomas won its third straight MIAC title, earned its fourth straight playoff appearance and finished with a school record 14 wins. He led a unit that allowed less than 80 rushing yards per game and had two fumble recoveries, both in the NCAA postseason, that he returned for touchdowns.
Idowu finished the season with 52 tackles, including 16 for a loss and five sacks. He also had six pass break-ups.
As Caruso said, it's extremely rare for any Division III football players to even get offered professional tryouts, much less make a team. Idowu's story makes it that much more impressive. Idowu said the fact that St. Thomas played for a national title this year, despite losing, got him enough national attention to get his name noticed among agents.
"I was blessed with an amazing senior season and got some attention from some scouts. I talked to a few agents after the national championship and decided I was going to give it a try," Idowu said.
He said he "took a leap of faith" and is has been up at 6 a.m. daily to train in Woodbury for his tryout. In addition to that, he's still got a full class schedule and a job to pay off college loans as Division III schools don't offer athletic scholarships.
He attended the University of Minnesota's pro day before the NFL Draft, and it went well enough that in his words he said, "I think I can do this." The draft came and went, but his phone wasn't ringing. He wondered what he had done wrong, only to find out agents couldn't reach him because of logistical errors. Somehow, they didn't have his proper contact information.
"I had heard Minnesota and Tampa Bay wanted to sign me so I was devastated. I thought I had messed it all up," Idowu said. "I was getting ready to tryout with a Canadian team when my agent called me and said the Seahawks wanted me. It was a really happy moment."
That was last Wednesday, and Idowu heads to Seattle Thursday for a physical. He'll have five practices over three days with other rookies, draft picks and undrafted free agents like himself. The Seahawks have eight players already signed among the 15 open slots, and he knows he's got competition at his spot on the defensive line.
If things work out and he sticks, he has a potential conflict later this month. Idowu is set to graduate with a degree in Business. Graduation is May 26, and if he makes it through tryouts he might not be walking.
"I wouldn't doubt my mom going down on the field and talking to Pete Carroll about it," said Idowu.
He got another thrill late last week as the Vikings did call and put him on their short list. He would get invited to try out if one of their current undrafted free agents gets injured.
Of Nigerian descent, football wasn't a big sport in his family growing up. He broke his leg playing football and sixth grade and said at the time he thought he would never play football again. By his freshman year of high school, he was the B team kicker at North St. Paul. It was then he decided to fully commit to playing football, the game he loves.
"I would get grounded for staying after school to lift in the weight room instead of coming home," Idowu said.
He has always played football with a loose and enthusiastic approach, yet with a chip on his shoulder like he has something to prove. He made the switch to defense in college because he was too big to run the ball in Division III.
This year's senior class was among the most successful to ever play football at St. Thomas. Idowu was a large part of that, with the highlight of playing for a national title.
"When I came to UST, Caruso changed the way I looked at football and life in general," Idowu said. "It was amazing, truly an honor and a blessing. Coming in as a freshman if that was how my career would go, 99 out of 100 people would've thought I was crazy. We just worked hard and now we get talent. Now we're a team that works harder than anybody else."
In one of his more humorous stories, Idowu said last year before the Tommies clinched a MIAC title he was invited by the company he works for to their Christmas party. It happened to be on the same day as the Division III national championship in Salem, Va. Idowu did not RSVP to the party.
"I told them I couldn't make it because I would be playing for a national championship," he said. "Everyone's goal at the start of the year is to win a national championship. To get there and actually have a chance is surreal. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life even though we lost."
He said he couldn't believe what was happening last week when his agent called about the Seahawks interest. He immediately called his parents, who were happy and proud but didn't take much time to bring him back to Earth.
"My Dad was like 'You're still going to class today right,' and I was like yes," Idowu said.
Regardless of how it unfolds, Idowu will give it everything he has to prove to Seahawks he can play in the NFL. He's a long shot and he knows it, but that's not going to stop him from trying.
"The way I'm looking at it is I might as well shoot for the squad. I'm just shooting for the best," Idowu said.
After realizing his dream isn't far away, he tweeted the following: "Thanks to everyone for all the love support and prayers, I really appreciate it. I will put St. Thomas on the map."
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