Open Extended Reactions
Northwestern Wildcats have sealed the commitment of British-Nigerian NFL Academy defensive back Timi Oke, who was once a promising right-back in a different type of football, drawing interest from the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion.
Oke, who attended the Whitgift School which produced Bayern Munich's Jamal Musiala and Nottingham Forest's Callum Hudson-Odoi, among others, realised that while he stood a chance of being a decent soccer player, his true talents lay in American football.
The NFL Academy turned him into a defensive back - coincidentally the closest one could come to the American football equivalent of his soccer position of right back.
Having also previously competed in track, he drew attention for his impressive 4.38-second 40-yard dash from several schools, with UConn among his eight offers. However, the studious 19-year-old believes he will get the best education at Northwestern.
Oke told ESPN: "I'm what I call the definition of a student athlete. I have a high GPA - 4.0 - and I play American football. I really wanted to find a school where I have the best of both worlds. I didn't want to put my academic career to waste and I felt like Northwestern is the perfect school for that.
"They play in the Big Ten - a Power Five conference in football - and they're one of the best academic schools in the country.
"I thought it was a no-brainer for me, because a big goal of mine is obviously to go to the NFL and be one of the greatest to play the game. That's my number one goal, but I also want to graduate with a good degree from a good school. Northwestern allows me to do both, so I just thought it makes perfect sense for me to go there."
Northwestern recruit Timi Oke, who is of Nigerian descent but born and raised in England, played soccer as far as high school, alongside the likes of Bayern Munich's Jamal Musiala and Premier League player Callum Hudson-Odoi. Supplied
Oke intends to study Asian languages and cultural studies, as well as finance, with a view to managing his own hedge fund. He can already speak Spanish and Chinese, as well as English. His studious approach to life has helped him in football, as he had to learn a new sport well enough to be recruited by a Division I college within a year.
"I feel like without my academic ability, I wouldn't have been able to pick up the sport so quickly, because one thing I realised when I started playing the sport was that there's a lot of time spent in the classroom as well that people don't realise," Oke said.
"You're learning plays. Learning the playbook is very important - if you don't know your playbook, you won't play. I had the ability to sit down - to just read the playbook and memorise everything very quickly.
"I was able to pick up the game very quickly and catch up, because that was my main goal when I joined the academy. I definitely feel that having that pedigree of high academic ability helped me to pursue a career in football."
It was not only Oke's talents off the field which helped him adjust to his new sport. When he started playing American football, he also carried over his tactical awareness from soccer, where he played in a position with similar responsibilities.
"I was a fullback - I was a right back. I was a very athletic right back, getting up and down the field. I was very good at that position... That helped me pick up the sport quite quickly - being able to play a position that is kind of mirrored in a different sport helped me to understand things quicker," said Oke, who remains a passionate Arsenal supporter.
"It's kind of similar - not very similar at all - but just a bit similar in terms of athleticism, what you do - footwork and things. It helped me pick up the game very quickly."
Northwestern's new recruit Timi Oke chose the Chicago school because of its academics, and he hopes to maintain his 4.0 GPA while playing football. Supplied
Given the way things have turned out, Oke is thankful Brighton's academy did not ultimately follow through with their interest, although he did not know at the time of their snub that it was a blessing in disguise.
"They had some interest when I was 15, I think. It didn't materialise. I think maybe they went for other players also. At the time, you wish it worked out. Now, I'm grateful it didn't," he said.
However, Oke vividly remembers the discipline of Musiala and Hudson-Odoi, who were slightly older than him so were never formally his teammates. Oke nevertheless shared the playground and training ground with them and observed their discipline, which he studied with the wide-eyed enthusiasm he takes into learning about finance, foreign languages and American football.
"I had loads of friends, because I went to a very good sports school - Whitgift in South Croydon - I had loads of friends that went on to play professional football that I was playing with before," he said.
"Some of my friends, like Jadan Raymond, Xavier Benjamin, Fionn Mooney - these are people that played... There's another, Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is at Nottingham Forest and Jamal Musiala who is at Bayern Munich - I was able to play with these guys at school and that kind of inspired me to join them.
"I ended up completely switching sports to a new sport and I'm just happy I did, because I haven't looked back since.
"I feel like the main thing [I will take from them] is discipline. I feel like that's an aspect of the game that can sometimes be frowned upon in that sense - maybe under-rated - because motivation is very important, but discipline is what gets you through.
"At the end of the day, there will be some days when waking up, you will feel like: 'I don't want to go out to gym this morning, because your motivation might not be there - maybe because you're tired or ill. Your discipline is what will get you through those sticky periods of time.
"Being able to watch them and how disciplined they were inspired me [to think] I need to be as disciplined as them, if not even more disciplined if that's even possible, so I was able to have that mentality when I joined the academy and I'm going to continue that when I go to Northwestern very soon."