Osayi Osunde: Transition Game

David Cassilo

Osayi Osunde has run onto the field to practice a countless number of times in his life. Although the act seems rather ordinary, each trip is different than the last.

Now, when Osunde makes the trek from the locker room to the field, he brings more than just his helmet. The fifth-year senior brings high expectations and leadership skills. Osunde is the team’s captain, leading tackler the last two seasons and a member of the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason first-team.

“There are expectations to be a leader and demonstrate leadership qualities, but other than that, nothing has changed,” Osunde said.

Change, though, has been a part of the linebacker’s life with some large and obvious and others harder to discern.

As he runs onto the field, his latest change is on display for everyone to see. Formerly No. 91, Osunde has switched his jersey number to 23, which he wore during his third year of midget football after he combined his first two numbers of 33 and 22.

“This is my last year playing football here, so I thought I’d bring it back to the childhood days,” Osunde said.

Wearing that new number, Osunde talks with his teammates before practice. Like most of the Wildcats, he cannot wait for the season to begin. The players are perhaps more anxious for this season to get underway than any other because their first game is at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia against Temple.

Many members of the team grew up in Pennsylvania, and Osunde is no exception, hailing from Bloomsburg. Although his hometown is over two hours from Villanova, it is a stone’s throw compared to his birthplace and site of the initial and greatest change of his life. Osunde was born in Nigeria and when he was just two years old, his family moved to America.

A move to another country is difficult enough, but eight years later, Osunde faced an even greater obstacle – the loss of his father, Egerton, to sickle-cell anemia.

One of the places that helped ease that transition is where he currently finds himself getting ready for practice – the football field. The youngest of four children, Osunde is one of three members of his family to play college football. His brother Uyi played linebacker at Connecticut and briefly in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns, while his brother Osagie was a running back for West Chester University.

Watching his brothers play eventually led him to the field, as well. And soon the Osundes were known as a football family.

“I was the waterboy for [Osagie’s] team for about two years, so I eventually picked it up,” Osunde said. “Now, it’s history and what we do.”

Osunde would like to add to that history by leading the Wildcats to a national title, and, even during a hot August practice, he gives maximum effort to push himself and his teammates. After a particularly strong workout with his fellow linebackers, Osunde does something he could not have done during most of his freshman season with the Wildcats. He raises his arm to tap one of his teammates on the helmet.

During Osunde’s freshman year, he was forced to undergo surgery on the labrum in his left shoulder. Within three months, he had the same surgery done to his right shoulder. A bright future with the Wildcats took an unexpected delay as Osunde was redshirted his freshman season.

“That was very rough,” Osunde said. “I am not going to lie. Rehab was awful, one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt.”

Luckily for Osunde, he was able to make it onto the football field his next season, but he was forced to abandon perhaps his best sport, the javelin. In his senior year at Central Columbia High, Osunde won the javelin title at the Nike Outdoor National Championships. However, the surgeries soon gave the two-sport star a decision to make, and in the end, football won out.

“I think I can still throw if I really wanted to, but you have to make your sacrifices, and I chose football over track and field,” Osunde said.

Instead of throwing, Osunde has made a career out of disrupting the man who throws for the opposing team. As he tries to improve his chances of doing that with another intense practice, Osunde also has watchful eye on the team’s defensive ends. With standout lineman Greg Miller and Dave Dalessandro having graduated, the position will be a pivotal spot for the Wildcats.

However, even if the position wasn’t in flux, Osunde is always concerned with the defensive ends, as that was where he was supposed to line up when he came to campus.

Osunde played there his first season after the surgeries and finished with three tackles. However, his size and quickness led the coaching staff to approach Osunde about a switch to linebacker.

“My sophomore year, when I actually started playing, I had a lot of roles as a defensive end and pass rusher,” Osunde said. “After that year was over, I was moved to linebacker. I worked my butt off and learned quick. My aggressive nature as a defensive player got me a starting spot on the team. From there it is just history.”

History it is, as Osunde became the team’s leading tackler in both seasons as a linebacker while also garnering All-CAA first team honors last season as a junior.

The accolades were part of the reason he became the team’s captain this season, but tell far from the whole reason by the selection.

“He’s the epitome of what I would want a Villanova football player to be,” said Head Coach Andy Talley. “He graduated in four years. He’s in the masters program. He’s a graduate student. He’s got a 3.0 GPA. He’s the kind of guy you would want as the image of your program.”

His past has led Osunde to where he is now, leading his teammates through practice as they prepare to make a run at a national title. Despite all of the transitions he has made already, making that switch from “just another team” to national champions is something he cannot do alone.

As the team gathers at the end of practice, Osunde’s No. 23 blends in with the other players. Together, they will start another season, and together they will try to add another change to Osunde’s life.