“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” - Frederick Douglass
That quote sums up what the past year was like for linebacker Ola Adeniyi.
The struggle for him was real. It was frustrating. And it was disappointing.
It began just before the 2018 season started. Adeniyi, an undrafted rookie free agent at the time, was thrilled he made the team’s 53-man roster. But as soon as the excitement set in, disappointment came when he 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.
When the day came for him to be able to practice, the struggle ensued. He still wasn’t back on the field with his teammates.
“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.
Take a look at photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers 5th day of training camp
“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 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.”
Eventually Adeniyi returned to practice in Nov. and was activated on Dec. 1 and played against the Los Angeles Chargers. But he was inactive the final four games of the season.
Those ups and downs drove him, pushed him to work harder than ever both in the weight room and on the field. He never eased up, working from the time the season ended until right before the start of camp, working out at the team’s facility just 24 hours before he had to report to camp.
“Everything that happened last year, me starting off the season on injured reserve and then not being active when I got back on,” said Adeniyi. “All of that motivated me to be better. It sucked bad. It hurt. I found out I made the team, was all excited, and the next day placed on injured reserve. That hurt. I am trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I worked this offseason. I worked hard. I trained in Miami for a while. I had a good trainer there. Then I came here and worked out with Gie (Garrett Giemont) and Cel (Marcel Pastoor). I worked a lot with them through the whole process.”
It's all paying off now. Adeniyi has been an early standout in camp this year, impressing everyone during backs-on-backers and standing out in team and individual drills.
It was easy to lose count of the times you heard either, ‘Nice job 92,’ or ‘Way to go Ola,’ shouted out by coaches and teammates.
“He has a lot of tenacity. Especially as an outside linebacker,” said Stephon Tuitt. “He has all of the things you want. He has built in leverage already. He can get around the edge. He is quick. He is fast. I think he is doing really well.”
Adeniyi didn’t do the work for the praise though. He did it because he loves the game and he wants to be out there playing this year, not watching from the sidelines.
“It feels good to hear the comments, but I am trying to do that every day and make sure that is a constant thing, not just a here and there type of thing,” said Adeniyi. “I just have to come out every day motivated and ready to go.
“I feel more confident than I did last year. More comfortable. It helps a lot. Last year coming in I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was a rookie, wide-eyed, undrafted. Now I know the system and I can settle down and play my game. It is a constant battle to work and get better.”
It’s a battle he is winning, though. Craig Wolfley, the former Steelers offensive lineman and member of the team’s radio broadcast crew, has seen plenty of players with pass rushing skills. What he sees in Adeniyi is something special.
“The biggest thing is because of his strength, which sets the base and foundation, you’re seeing all the other branches of his pass rushing blossom,” said Wolfley. “You are seeing his speed rush to the corner. His hand play, trapping skills, knocking the hands down. He has excellent hand play. He reaches out and engages the guys before the guys engage him. He has a spin at the quarterback depth, so he doesn’t get run around back side. He has a great stutter and go.
“If you say what makes Ola so good it’s his unpredictability. Most guys can be categorized as rhythmic or non-rhythmic pass rushers. He is both, with a heavy emphasis on non-rhythmic. He will throw things at you with an instinctive, almost animal like quality in that he just knows what to do when it happens. I don’t think he preplans as much as people think.”
Wolfley also said Adeniyi is reaping the benefits of hitting the weight room and described it in the way only Wolfley can.
“When you have that foundation of strength he can wrestle with the big boys,” said Wolfley. “That was what he was missing last year, that strength to be able to do that. He looks like he has been doing a lot more squatting with man hole covers on a bar going up and down and eating beef cake than he has been taking long naps and eating sweets.”