Betiku finds support in family, dreams of bowl game win

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Betiku finds support in family, dreams of bowl game win

llinois wide receiver Trevon Sidney runs for a touchdown against Akron on Aug. 31. The team is confident it can keep up this momentum with its new players.

llinois wide receiver Trevon Sidney runs for a touchdown against Akron on Aug. 31. The team is confident it can keep up this momentum with its new players.

Jonathan Bonaguro

llinois wide receiver Trevon Sidney runs for a touchdown against Akron on Aug. 31. The team is confident it can keep up this momentum with its new players.

Jonathan Bonaguro

Jonathan Bonaguro

llinois wide receiver Trevon Sidney runs for a touchdown against Akron on Aug. 31. The team is confident it can keep up this momentum with its new players.

By Jared Farmer, Staff Writer

It’s been six years since Oluwole Betiku Jr. has seen his family. He sends his parents his highlights since they can’t watch his games from their home in Nigeria. His parents aren’t overly familiar with gridiron football, so Betiku usually explains the game.

But even though they don’t have all the X’s and O’s down like Betiku does, their support remains unwavering.

“They know what I’ve been through, the type of journey I’ve had,” he said. They’ve been with me since I was born. Every time after a game, I call them and tell them how I performed. I’ll tell my mom how many sacks I had, but she really doesn’t know what sacks are. But she still knows that I’m doing well, and that makes her happy.”

Betiku has come a long way, but he’ll be the first to say he still has a long way to go.

One of several players to come to Illinois from Southern California, the junior transfer has made an immediate impact as a defensive end, leading the Big Ten in tackles for loss (6.5) and leading the nation in sacks (5.0) in his first two games as an Illini.

“I’m just trying to win as a defense,” Betiku said. “We all want to win as a defense. When I play, I don’t even count. People ask me on the sideline how many I have, but I don’t know. I’m just playing to win.”

Betiku originally committed to USC back in 2016. He was a 5-star prospect, the top defensive end and the No. 15 overall player in his recruiting class. He didn’t pick up football until high school, but thanks to his dad, who he both shares a name and a birthday with, he’s always had an athletes training regimen.

Betiku Sr., a mechanic, made his son’s first set of weights using detached flywheels from the spare parts at his job.

“I wouldn’t be playing sports if it wasn’t for my dad,” Betiku said. “He’s always wanted me to play soccer. My mom used to always tell me that she didn’t want me playing with street boys, but my dad was always like ‘Nah! Go outside and go play and get stronger.’ so he’s really excited. We have the same name and were born on the same day, so he kind of lives through me. That makes his day whenever I send him (my highlights), and I’m glad I get to make him happy.”

“I can’t wait to reunite again, to come out of the tunnel and see my whole family is watching. That’d be awesome.”

While it looked like Betiku’s story might be one of overnight success – a student picking up football in high school and committing to a PAC-12 program – his time at USC proves otherwise.

He never lived up to the expectations at USC. He left the Trojans with just two tackles and no sacks in three years and only played 14 games during the 2016 and 2017 seasons combined. Then in the 2018 offseason, he had a hip surgery that would cost him his 2018 season.

Betiku did some serious soul searching while recovering from his injury. During his time away from rehab, Betiku made art and music, worked on his core balance and picked up meditation.

“I just do it to relax,” Betiku said. “When I was a freshman/sophomore, I used to feel added pressure to perform. I started playing the ball late in high school, so coming into college, I felt like I was being overwhelmed. So when I got injured, I started meditating. A lot,” Betiku said. “I’ll put on my music and just get into my zone and try to just relax my mind and remind myself that everything is ok. I’m where I’m supposed to be. Today is today, tomorrow’s going to be fine and forget about the past. I feel like every athlete should try it.”

It’s only been two games into the season for Illini Football, and Betiku has his eyes set on helping the Illini get to their first bowl game under head coach Lovie Smith. He doesn’t feel like he’s entirely in his groove again, but he believes it’s coming soon.

“I want to wear a bowl game ring with pride. I want to feel like I contributed to that, and the whole team is happy. Us climbing the stage and seeing the confetti fall down, that’s my dream.”

@jaredefarmer

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