Breakdowns

Falcons LB Foye Oluokun: Embrace the Ugly

Entering his fourth season with the Atlanta Falcons, linebacker Foyesade Oluokun is coming off a breakout year. He started 14 games and finished with 116 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. Not bad for a sixth-round pick out of Yale who didn’t even get an invite to the Combine. Foye shared his story with the 33rd Team:

The Ugly Gang. It may sound crazy, but that’s my brand. You know the story of the Ugly Duckling? I feel like that story resonates with me. Didn’t fit in at a mostly white prep school. Didn’t always fit in at Yale. Didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine.

But it doesn’t really matter if you don’t fit in. The ugly duckling didn’t fit in to a lot of places. There may be times when you feel like you don’t fit in, feel uncomfortable because you didn’t grow up like a lot of people around you.

But you’ve got inner pride. The ugly duckling turned into a swan – and there’s a swan in all of us. If you’re beautiful on the inside, have something that is going to let you shine, be confident in yourself. Let that thing shine. People are going to like you for that.

I try to be confident in everything I do. I think it’s worked out well so far.

Not that I envisioned playing in the NFL when I was in high school. That was more for my teammate, current Cowboys running back Zeke Elliott. He was destined for the NFL. Me? Basketball was actually my first preference. But I knew I wasn’t going to make the NBA as a 6-1 small forward. Slim chances. So I chose to play football in college.

My parents, who came to this country from Nigeria, never really settled for average, no matter what it was. So when I decided to go to Yale to play football, my father said, “You’re not going there to be average. You’re going there to be the best that you can be.” So as soon as I got there, I started competing. I’ve always been very competitive – always want to make that jump to the next level. I like being the best I can possibly be.

It wasn’t until after my freshman year, when I played well – made the FCS all-freshman team as a cornerback – that coach was like, “If you keep improving, I’m going to move you to safety, and you’ll have a chance to make it in the league.”

I got hurt my junior year, 2015. Zeke got drafted in 2016, fourth overall. I had two more years to prove myself and I thought, “If Zeke can make it, I can make it.” So that became my motivation.

Just like the ugly duckling became a swan, I made it to the NFL – and it’s been a great ride so far. Even though I’m coming off by best year as a pro, now is not the time to slow down. Especially with the coaching change in Atlanta. We’re all working hard and I like how we’re looking right now. We run a lot. We’ve lifted lot. We’ve practiced pretty hard. I think going into training camp, the work we’ve put in this offseason has us feeling good.

I spent a couple more hours this offseason reviewing the playbook, because it’s not something I knew from the previous years. I’m also watching film on dudes I think are good players, seeing what I can do to improve my game. Make sure my confidence is up so that I’m ready for the season.

The new defense is different from the defense we played last year. The Cover 3 scheme we played last year was a lot more lateral-playing for linebackers. Now we have to play more downhill, so getting off the spots, which my coach said would affect my game positively. I have to learn to attack the linemen before they can turn and run upfield on me.

Advice for kids

When I’m not busy preparing for the start of the season, I like to use my influence to help kids. I’ll go read to kids in school, or sometimes just talk to them – tell my story to them. If only one person in that group can look at me and say, “If he can do it, I can do it,” then I’m happy. Same outlook I had. So hopefully my story reaches those kids.

The biggest advice I could give them is just to listen. My parents were very strict, for sure, but sometimes you’re getting told to think for yourself and not listen to others. But there are definitely answers to the test out there. I do think it’s important to become your own individual person, but whatever your idea of success is, it’s okay to follow what you’ve seen from other successful people. Not to copy it, but to have that as your template.

I was fortunate enough to go to a private school on the other side of town, and I saw how they were living. My dad would always tell me, “If you want that, you have to be smart. Those are hard-working people.”

I was taught that academics would be the key to getting me out, to be what I wanted to be. My parents came all the way here from Nigeria to give us the best life possible. I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t try my hardest to be the best student that I could be. I wouldn’t say that I was the best student, but I definitely knew what it took to get good grades. I took that competitive spirit I had in anything I did. So really the best advice I could give is to just listen to people that are trying to help you.

Internally, I’m definitely excited and motivated for the 2021 season. I have my goals, but it’s not something I’m trying to boast about or predict. I’m definitely going to try to cause more turnovers, try to make as many tackles, win as many games. That’s something I’m always trying to do week in and week out. Focus on the present and that stuff will happen.

Maybe the entire Falcons team can be the ugly ducklings – and let our abilities shine through this season to become the swans we know we can be.

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