MADISON, Wis. — Scan Wisconsin’s two-deep roster for this week’s game against Bowling Green, and you won’t see defensive end James Adeyanju’s name in sight. Adeyanju, in fact, has yet to make an appearance on the depth chart in four seasons with the program.
That is an awfully long time for a player to wait his turn. But Adeyanju is doing his part each day to make his string of two-deep absences a thing of the past.
"That’s something I think about every single day," Adeyanju said following Wednesday’s practice. "It’s something that motivates me, and it’s on my mind every day. I’m in class, it’s on my mind. I’m at home, it’s on my mind. I’m doing homework, it’s on my mind. That’s something that motivates me to try to just be at the top. I know it’s coming soon. I’ve got to keep working."
Given the way Adeyanju performed during the fourth quarter of Wisconsin’s 37-3 victory against Western Illinois, it certainly appears his time is coming. In one quarter alone, Adeyanju tallied five tackles and recovered a fumble. During one, three-play sequence, he recorded two of those tackles and then scooped up the fumble that led directly to Wisconsin’s final touchdown.
For the game, only starting linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch tallied more tackles, with six apiece.
After each contest, the Badgers’ coaching staff picks a list of players to be either winners or champions. Those listed as winners are considered to have played good enough to help win Wisconsin a game. Those listed as champions are considered to have played good enough to help Wisconsin win a championship.
Adeyanju was named a champion for the first time in his career.
"That was real positive to see," said Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. "I think it’s something to build off of. He’s still in a lot of our sub packages. He’ll be rotating in, and I think he’s got some momentum going. I am interested to see kind of where he takes it. It’s all in his hands. He seems focused and seems ready."
Adeyanju, a 6-foot-2, 262-pound redshirt junior, certainly has bided his time in Wisconsin’s program. He arrived in 2011, and one recruiting service listed him as the top-ranked defensive end in Illinois coming out of Chicago’s Currie High School. He took a redshirt year in 2011 and was named the program’s defensive scout team player of the year. But over the next two seasons, Adeyanju appeared in just six games and registered a total of two tackles.
Given those numbers, his fourth quarter against Western Illinois was considered a breakout performance. And now, he’s hoping to use that outing as a springboard for the season.
"I’ve waited a while," Adeyanju said. "It really feels good. I’m glad the coaching staff has faith in me to put me out there even though I’ve waited so long. But now that I’ve waited so long, it’s my time to go out there and show people what I can do and what they haven’t seen, what they’ve been missing. That’s a big deal for me."
Adeyanju noted making the transition to a 3-4 defense under Aranda has been a challenge for him, which has caused him to feel down on himself at times over the past two seasons. He played his entire high school career in a 4-3 and spent his first two years at Wisconsin in the same base defense.
He said his biggest challenge was better understanding the way a defensive end was supposed to handle certain run fits in a 3-4 and becoming more stout overall in the run game. As he has spent more time in the system, however, he’s noticed reading the correct blocks has come easier.
"He takes constructive criticism really well," Badgers nose guard Warren Herring said. "He’s trying to be a leader. That speaks volumes for him. It’s not his first rodeo. He got some snaps last year. But just seeing him get better, his production this year compared to last year has been going through the roof, and I’m excited for him."
Adeyanju’s most immediate goal is to continue seeing the field in specific packages for Saturday’s game against Bowling Green. If a play is run to his side, he intends on being there to make the stop, much as he did against Western Illinois. And then, soon enough, he expects to make a push at the team’s two-deep roster.
"I have to keep making big plays in games, showing the coaches that I’m a big-time player, but most important I’ve got to do it in practice," Adeyanju said. "That’s the hardest thing is to be consistent every day. The guys that are all-Americans, they’re consistent every day. And If I can be consistent in practice and show them I can make plays in games, they’ll have no choice but to put me up there."