Babalola Puts on the Pads

by - Correspondent -

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

CLEMSON -- Tommy Bowden spent all weekend practicing how to pronounce Olu Babalola's name. Well, let's just say practice doesn't always make perfect.

"It was closer than anybody else," said Babalola about Bowden stumbling to pronounce his name when he introduced the former Tiger basketball player to the football team Monday. "I'm expecting it to be wrong from everybody so that's OK."

Babalola, a four-year lettermen with the Clemson basketball program, wore jersey No. 57 as he worked out with the defensive ends in his first day of football practice. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound senior wore a helmet, shoulder pads and shorts, while the rest of the team wore complete uniforms.

Bowden said he didn't have an opinion of Babalola as a football player yet, but he knows he is the kind of guy who will bring a lot of energy to the table. On Monday, the coaches had him work out at defensive end, but that doesn't mean that is where they're planning on keeping him.

"I don't know what we're going to do yet," said Bowden. "He looked like a defensive end that's playing basketball.

"We thought we would try him over there, but he could be offense in two days," he added. "I'm kind of excited about him as I told him the other day.

I really like his enthusiasm and effort when he played basketball." Babalola took part in the drills during the early stages of practice, but did not do any of the hitting drills. He said at first he was a little anxious about taking a hit, but after watching Monday's practice from the sideline, he thinks he will not have any problems.

"I'm good for that. I was nervous at first, but once I watched them out there, it's not that bad," said Babalola. "As long as I don't get hit in the knee. I don't want to get hit in the knee." Babalola shouldn't be getting hit in the knee or anywhere for the next couple of practices. Bowden says they want to see how he adjusts to the change. Though they don't want to drag their feet with him, at the same time they want to make sure he is adjusting at the proper speed.

"We have a short stick so we can't be messing around. We don't have a red-shirt year or anything like that," Bowden said. "If he wants to stay out, then we need to get him in some work pretty soon, which we will try to put him in pads some Wednesday.

"It is going to depend on how tough he is and if he wants to do it," Bowden added. "He is going from a contact sport to a collision sport, and there's a difference."

It's a difference Babalola is conscious about.

"The coaches have been nice in taking the time to show me what to do. It's not a definite yet, but if it works out, I will stick with it," he said.

"I'm still trying the waters, I'll do anything. Today, it was defense, tomorrow who knows what it would be.

"Basketball is a skilled game. As hard as I workout in the gym, and I'm not saying they don't here, it definitely has prepped me as far work ethic goes."

Babalola started 65 basketball games for the Tigers over the last three years and concluded his career with 694 points and 363 rebounds in 108 games. He shot 70 percent from the foul line and averaged 6.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

This past season he was the fourth leading scorer for Oliver Purnell's Tiger team that advanced to the NIT. He scored 6.8 points per contest and averaged 3.7 rebounds per game.

Just because he is trying out for the football team, Babalola isn't hanging up the high tops for good. He still hopes to get a shot at the NBA and if football doesn't workout, then he will try his hand in the European Leagues.

"Basketball is definitely not over for me, but come December when I'm done with football, if there is no more of this, then I can come right back to basketball," he said.

"I'm still doing stuff like working out and stuff. I'm not prepared to go to Europe yet.

"If the NBA was an option I would be getting ready for that, but that's not a definite option for me. I'm doing what I can do for that, but if the NBA doesn't work out, this is where I want to be." Babalola hopes to use his extra time at Clemson to get his degree as well.

Right now, with a little hard work, he could graduate in December. If he decides football isn't for him, and he tries the professional basketball ranks in Europe, it would take longer.

"I'm just getting whatever comes out of it," he said. "There is no rush for me to leave (Clemson) right now, and I don't have my degree.

"If it is looking like something I'm not comfortable with, I probably will pick up basketball again and comeback over the summer and work towards my degree."

Bowden feels giving a player like Babalola is worth a shot. He even went so far to use San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates as an example.

Gates, a former basketball player at Kent State, set a national record for receptions for the Golden Flashes in just one year of playing college football before breaking out as a rookie for the Chargers.

"Antonio Gates is one of the top NFL tight ends. I'll take that kind of chance," said Bowden.

So will Babalola who said just about everyone on campus and in his family has told him to go out for football.

"To be honest with you, everywhere I walk some one tells me to try it, including my mom," he said. "So there is no harm in trying."

Will Vandervort is the Sports Editor for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger.

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