Morris: Adeleke’s versatility integral to Ticats trip to GC108

As a rookie with the Calgary Stampeders Tunde Adeleke quickly learned the more positions he could play the better his chances were of getting on the field.

“From the start of my time in this league I always have been a guy trying to memorize the whole defence,” said the East Division All-Star. “I just kind of pay attention to generally everything that’s going on because you never know where you’re going to have more success or when you’re going to get the opportunity to have success.”

Adeleke’s versatility and ball-hawking skill is one of the reasons the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Sunday’s 108th Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field.

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Since signing with Hamilton in 2019 as a free agent the 26-year-old who played at Carleton University has become the Tiger-Cats’ Swiss army knife. He’s listed as a free safety but due to injuries has filled in all over the defensive backfield plus plays on special teams. Born in Nigeria and raised in Ottawa, he also brings ratio flexibility to the Hamilton roster.

Playing safety is what Adeleke enjoys the most but feels comfortable being moved to other positions.

“It takes a couple of seconds to figure out exactly where and what I have to do to be successful in that position,” he said. “I always know I could be anywhere in a game. Watching film and in practices I’m always concentrating, knowing every job in a situation.”

His ability to plug and play makes Adeleke valuable to any coaching staff.

“There’s an old saying, the more you can do, the longer you can stay,” said Jeff Reinebold, Hamilton’s special teams coordinator. “He has a tremendous skill set.”

Despite missing two game with a hamstring injury Adeleke had 44 tackles, two sacks, a pair of interceptions and six pass knockdowns for an 8-6 Hamilton team that allowed the second fewest points in the league. In two playoff games Adeleke collected 14 tackles and two knockdowns.

When it comes to football intelligence, Adeleke is like Stephen Hawking

“He’s just one of the smartest players I’ve been around in the game,” said middle linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox. “His instinct and natural football knowledge is unmatched.

“He is wise beyond his years. In relative football terms he’s young but he doesn’t play young. His mind is moving like a defensive coordinator out there.”

Adeleke is a compact five-foot-10 and 208 pounds. Defensive coordinator Mark Washington said he’s both “extremely fast and quick.”

“He has long speed and short-area quickness,” said Washington. “He is physical and can play the ball well. He’s really smart and communicates greatness.

“He has all the attributes you want, so you try to take advantage. We use them all. He’s able to handle it and does well, so why not?”

Adeleke was six when his family moved to Ottawa. His first step on the road to the CFL came when his mother registered his older brother to play football.

“I always wanted to copy everything my brother did,” said Adeleke. “I bothered my mom to register me too.

“I’ve had some success and I’ve been playing for so long. It’s been a big part of my life and I’m hoping to play for as long as possible.”

While coaches and teammates acknowledge Adeleke’s football talent they also praise him as a person.

“You wouldn’t know he’s one of the best free safeties in the league by the way he carries himself,” said Santos-Knox. “He’s just another guy in the locker room, he doesn’t have a big head or a big ego.

“He’s not looking for stats, he’s not looking for the camera or fame. He’s not posted an Instagram picture in like two years.”

Adeleke played four seasons at Carleton where he majored in environmental science. He earned first-team Ontario University Athletics and all-Canadian honours as a returner in 2015 and 2016.

Selected by Calgary selected 25th overall in the 2017 CFL draft, he found himself on a Stampeder team stocked with veterans like Josh Bell, Tommie Campbell, Ciante Evans and Joe Burnett.

“I gained a lot of knowledge of the game,” said Adeleke. “There was a lot of successful people.

“When I got there the coaches said just pay attention to what the vets do. I learned a lot from the players. I learned how to practice, how to play and how to read offences.”

As a rookie Adeleke appeared in 17 games, with three starts at safety and one as a strong side linebacker. He had 15 defensive tackles, 13 special teams tackles, one quarterback sack and one forced fumble.

Adeleke also returned 26 punts for 356 yards, including a 71-yard return for a touchdown.

He was part of the 2018 Stampeder team that beat Ottawa to win the Grey Cup, then in 2019 made the decision to sign with Hamilton.

“I had success in Calgary,” said Adeleke. “I liked Calgary and the coaches and players. I just felt I would have the most success growing as a player in Hamilton with the coaches and the defence they run and the players around them.

“I think it’s worked out for the best for me right now.”

Adeleke has played four CFL seasons and will appear in his fourth Grey Cup Sunday. Besides his 2018 win, he was with Calgary when they lost in 2017 to Toronto and played for the Tiger-Cats when they were beaten by Winnipeg in 2019.

“I feel like I’ve been in two situations where there’s people who work hard enough to get to this point in the season,” he said. “I understand it’s just one game at this point.

“It doesn’t matter what your record is. It just matters what you put on the field.”

Adeleke has experienced the elation of winning and the pain of losing the last game of the season.

“The winning dressing room with the champagne and everything,” he said. “That’s what we’re working towards.”

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