It was early October and Ola Adeniyi was excitedly talking about what could happen in two weeks when he would be eligible to return to practice and hopefully the playing field soon.
He was hopeful after starting out the season in a disappointing manner. Adeniyi made the team’s final 53-man roster, but was placed on injured reserve a day later because of a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason. NFL rules required he couldn’t practice for the first six weeks of the season, and couldn’t play for eight weeks.
So when the magical date to return to practice came and went in October, it was even more disappointment for him.
It wasn’t an easy journey, especially for a rookie who really had no idea what life in the NFL was all about.
“I am not going to lie to you. It was pretty tough,” said Adeniyi. “When I got the news that I was going on injured reserve I had it in mind this is happening, but I will be back after six weeks or whatever. I put in all of that work and then six weeks comes and you are still on injured reserve. It was frustrating. I just never let it get to me, kept working every day to get better.
“I kept a line of communication with the coaches. I needed that. I talked to a lot of players. The outside linebackers kept me up. I never felt I was lost. I had people to talk to. I had support.”
There were times while his teammates were practicing all Adeniyi could do is work on his rehab. No football activities, just getting in shape and ready to return. And while he did his best to keep that positive mindset, it had its moments.
“It felt like I wasn’t part of the team when that was going on,” said Adeniyi. “I kept talking to the guys. I kept hanging around them. It definitely felt like I wasn’t part of the team. I am over on one side doing a track meet. I can’t do anything football wise. It was hard.
“I never had to sit out for a long period of time until this. Now that I’ve had that adversity, going into next year I know what to expect. If I can take care of my body and not be put in that situation that is what I am going to do.”
There was a light at the end of the tunnel, though. He was activated to return to practice on Nov. 21, and he was placed on the active roster on Dec. 1, one day before the Steelers played the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field.
“I was excited. I was geeked up,” said Adeniyi, a noticeable change in his voice and demeanor as he spoke. “I was ready to go. I worked so hard to get to that point. I was excited. I was thankful. It just felt great. My hamstring healed up well. I had kept training. I felt good. I kept going hard in practice. I didn’t want to be put in that situation again where it was taken away from me.
“It was hard, but I have a strong mindset. My mother raised me to be strong. I just never let it break me down.”
Adeniyi played against the Chargers, getting in on one tackle. But after that the ups and downs of the NFL continued. He was inactive for the final four games of the season, getting a quick taste of things and then having it taken away from him in the blink of an eye.
“Being inactive is worse than injured reserve because a lot of people think you are on the team, but you are not contributing whatsoever in my eyes,” said Adeniyi. “I never want to be in that situation again, just standing on the sidelines, cheering your teammates on, and looking at little details. Me personally, I want to play. I don’t want to be on the bench and just be comfortable.”
Adeniyi has been approaching this offseason in a manner to make sure he isn’t in that situation again. This is a guy who knows what it’s like to face the odds, signing with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2018 NFL Draft.
“I have a fire,” said Adeniyi. “I will always have it because I am that underrated guy. Coming out of high school I wasn’t highly recruited. Coming out of college undrafted. I always had adversity in my life. I am always going to have that chip on my shoulder.
“This offseason I am working on getting better. I need to work on my coverage skills more. I wasn’t on the field to do it. Working more on pass rush moves. Getting stronger. Work on my special teams game as well. In college I didn’t do it as much. Special teams is big.
“When I came back I was active for one game and that was it. I never want to have that feeling again. I never want to be inactive again. Whatever I have to do special teams wise to be out there, I am going to do.”