Kansas offensive coordinator Rob Likens has been coaching college football for 25 years, and he’s not sure he’s ever seen anyone quite like Hakeem Adeniji.
The 6-foot-4 offensive lineman, who wasn’t even part of KU’s official recruiting class last year, started the team’s first game at right tackle. He also did so as a true freshman.
Likens has seen many guys in situations like this before, and when game week arrives, they often tighten up because of nerves.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘scared’ and ‘fear,’ but the pressure starts to get to them,” Likens said. “It’s just amazing. The kid is the same guy every single day. Nothing fazes him.”
Adeniji was part of a solid first game for KU’s young offensive line. The Jayhawks’ big men allowed no sacks while showing increased versatility. KU beat Rhode Island 55-6 on Saturday.
“The thing we were lacking last year is just athleticism. We had some big guys up there that really couldn’t move around,” Likens said. “Now we’ve got guys that are athletic. They can get up to the second level faster, quicker.”
KU’s coaches still had moments a week ago when they thought they might be crazy. The Jayhawks elected to go with a pair of freshmen on the right side of the line. Adeniji played right tackle while redshirt freshman Mesa Ribordy played right guard.
Likens said the coaches had talked about whether it was best to put two rookies next to each other. In the end, they decided it was more important to put the most experienced player in D’Andre Banks at left tackle.
Adeniji and Ribordy performed just fine. Likens said Ribordy graded as one of the top linemen, while KU coach David Beaty lauded Adeniji’s effort.
“Hakeem is a very talented young guy,” Beaty said. “Very pleased with what he’s been doing.”
The two players’ success is more impressive given their circumstances. Adeniji, who didn’t show up on KU’s campus until fall practices, was originally an Air Force commit. He played last year at Garland High in Texas for Jeff Jordan, who is now KU football’s director of player personnel.
Ribordy, meanwhile, came to KU as a walk-on last season from nearby Louisburg High.
Both players are not available to be interviewed because of team policy regarding freshmen.
“Those guys have been great all camp,” KU quarterback Montell Cozart said. “We knew when the gametime came, they’d be a little nervous, but they stepped it up a notch. They’re going to continue to do that.”
Likens admits Adeniji still can improve in terms of technique. He also can get bigger, as he’s listed at 265 pounds with most of KU’s other linemen in the 300s.
All things considered, though, Likens was encouraged by the start of Adeniji’s career.
“I don’t know if I’ve come across a freshman like him,” Likens said. “He doesn’t act like a freshman in any phase of his game.”