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Inside Indianapolis: Behind the NFL Combine preparation of Adetomiwa Adebawore

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NFL scouts entered Thursday’s NFL Combine workouts unsure of how to pronounce Adetomiwa Adebawore’s name. They left unable to forget it.

It was as good a day as he could’ve asked for, as Adebawore wowed everyone in attendance with standout performances in nearly every category. However, his journey was far from a one-off great day; it was the culmination of four years of unwavering dedication.

The 6-foot-2, 282-pound defensive lineman picked up early steam ahead of the season when he was named to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman’s “College football Freaks list,” highlighting the sport’s most physically gifted athletes. Over the next four months, Adebawore lived up to that pedigree, turning in a dominant season that included five sacks, nine tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles while working primarily from the interior.

Now, the former Northwestern captain is preparing to enter the next stage of his career: the NFL Draft.

“It’s truly a blessing, because I wasn’t thinking about the Combine when I got out of high school,” Adebawore said to members of the media on Wednesday. “I was just trying to go get my degree, play football and play hard. And then I got the opportunity. I’m trying to take full advantage of it.”

From growing up in Kansas City, Missouri to potentially hearing his name called there in April, Adebawore’s journey has been one of hard work and a willingness to improve his game. As a three-star recruit out of high school, Adebawore decided on Northwestern because the school gave him the opportunity to get a good degree and compete in the Big Ten. Scheduled to finish his final classes and earn his degree in psychology in a few weeks, he’s managed to exceed in both aspects over the last four years.

In his time at Northwestern, Adebawore watched as several Wildcats went to the NFL. He said he learned from former first-round pick Greg Newsome II and Super Bowl champion Earnest Brown about how the NFL is a business and how players can’t be complacent, as well as the amount of work required to succeed. He’s also spoken with the likes of NU standouts at his position, including Tyler Lancaster, who shared the true grind of staying in the league.

“I remember Tyler Lancaster telling me, ‘If you’re not working now, you’re going to be just washed out of the league instantly,’” Adebawore said. “You have to stay in shape. You have to make sure you’re being a pro, making sure you’re ready to go, your body’s ready to go.”

While in Evanston, Adebawore perfected his craft, modeling his game after NFL star Aaron Donald, who’s succeeded at a similar height and weight. He operated both on the inside and outside, preparing him for wherever his future team needs him. This versatility has put him on radars for teams across the league, as he’s already spoken to all 32 teams.

After wrapping up the 2022 season and weighing his options, Adebawore declared for the NFL Draft. The former Wildcat headed down to Pensacola, Florida to work with former NFL defensive lineman Fred Robbins at Exos, a training program that prepares prospects for the NFL Scouting Combine. Instead of training for specific football situations, like he did at Northwestern for four years, Adebawore was now preparing solely for the Combine and ensuing draft.

He then saw his stock climb rapidly at the Senior Bowl, where he caught the eyes of several teams. When asked about his performance in Mobile, Alabama, he calmly stated that nothing from the Senior Bowl happened overnight, and that it was the buildup of seven-to-eight years of hard work and practice that “blossomed” in front of the public eye.

Weeks later in Indianapolis, he left nothing on the field.

On Wednesday, Adebawore said the thing he was looking to show teams the most at the Combine was just how athletic he was. On Thursday, he took any and all expectations and threw them out the window.

Adebawore dominated every drill he did in Lucas Oil Stadium, putting up numbers that would’ve absolutely shattered Combine position records if he was listed as the defensive tackle many project him to be, rather than as a defensive end. He kicked off his afternoon with a 37.5-inch vertical jump that ranked first among defensive ends, then followed it up with a 10-foot-5-inch broad jump that once again had him at the top of the non-edge defensive line rankings.

Then came the drill that shocked everyone. Weighing in at 282 pounds, Adebawore split an official 4.49 40-yard dash that ranked fourth among all players Thursday and first among defensive linemen. If listed as a defensive tackle instead, the time would’ve absolutely blown Calijah Kancey’s 4.67 — which was the fasted time by a DT since 2003 — out of the water. His sprint caught the eyes of the NFL Twitter account, as well as several high-profile analysts.

With everyone now paying attention, Adebawore crushed his remaining workouts, showing off his athleticism, speed and versatility. The former Wildcat raced around dummies, stepped over bags and switched directions quickly to the cheers of his fellow position-members. If there were any doubts about him, Adebawore silenced them, putting up a Combine performance for the ages.

It’s hard not to be reminded of Newsome’s Combine in 2021, which saw him climb from a mid-round projection to a first-round selection, when watching Adebawore on Thursday. In the matter of a few hours, the defensive lineman gave scouts and teams a glimpse into exactly the explosion that he can provide both off the edge and inside, and has certainly turned the minds of those who didn’t expect much from an undersized player on a 1-11 team.

Adebawore’s story is one that details his relentless pursuit to improve as a player and strengthen his mental toughness. It’s one where the hero stays loyal to his school, works hard and becomes a leader of his team. It’s one where he models his game after the best, trying every day to go out and not only make himself better, but everyone around him as well.

And most importantly, it’s a story that’s just getting started.

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