Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji couldn’t believe the words in front of him.
It was four months after he signed a letter of intent with Air Force football — and a few weeks before he was set to report to campus — when the school sent him an email saying his medical waiver had been denied. Adeniji was not eligible to attend the academy.
“My heart dropped a little bit,” Adeniji said. “It’s mid-June. I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The problem was something he’d discovered eight years earlier.
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Back when he was 10 — when he ate a cashew for the first time — Adeniji’s throat started to swell, with his lips becoming itchy. He figured he had an allergy, though he didn’t think much of it until last summer, when he self-reported the condition through the Air Force’s online application portal.
The college asked him to get tested, and once the allergy was confirmed, his admission was rejected.
“I couldn’t get in, and it wasn’t anything to do with football,” Adeniji said. “It was just the Air Force side of it.”
He called his brother, Moshood, who had played on the O-line at Air Force from 2010-13. It was June 19, and Adeniji needed a different plan … and quickly.
Most college football teams already had started summer workouts. He reached out to some schools with earlier interest before talking to high school coach Jeff Jordan, who had recently moved from Garland, Texas, to become the director of personnel for KU’s football team.
Everything happened quickly. Just 16 days later — on July 5 — Adeniji began attending second-semester summer school classes in Lawrence.
“For me, it was always about moving on,” Adeniji said, “and trying to make the most out of the next opportunity that I got.”
He did that immediately.
While undersized at 265 pounds — the Air Force would have required him to limit his body fat percentage — Adeniji quickly impressed teammates in the weight room. That included quarterback Carter Stanley, who at first thought Adeniji was a defensive lineman because of his slimmer physique.
“He looked so athletic in some of the workouts,” Stanley said. “I was like, ‘Holy cow, if we could put some weight on this guy, he’ll be a stud.’”
Adeniji managed without that weight for the better part of his true freshman season.
On the first day of fall practices, he remembers being moved to a different practice field with the rest of KU’s newcomers. By the second day he was elevated to second-team reps, and after an injury the next week, he moved up with the 1s.
On Sept. 3, less than two months after arriving in the summer, Adeniji started the season-opener against Rhode Island. He remained in the lineup for each of the Jayhawks’ 11 games after that, moving to left tackle midway through the season with his weight fluctuating between 260 and 270 pounds.
“I had some freshman moments here and there, but I had fun,” Adeniji said. “Growing up, that’s your dream, playing Big 12 football. To do it as a freshman — looking back on it, I didn’t think as much about it in the moment, but looking back on it, it was quite an experience.”
He has bigger hopes this season after adding 20 pounds to get to 288, and the future appears promising.
Adeniji, who earned All-Big 12 honorable mention honors last season, turned himself from late arrival into offensive cornerstone in the span of a few months. And though KU wasn’t part of his original plans, he’s not disappointed that fluky circumstances led him to Lawrence.
“Now I’m here,” Adeniji said, “and everything that’s happened has just been a blessing.”