Former NFL Player Akin Ayodele on How a Purdue Scholarship Changed His Life

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This is a podcast episode titled, Former NFL Player Akin Ayodele on How a Purdue Scholarship Changed His Life. The summary for this episode is: <p>In this episode of “This Is Purdue,” we're talking to Akin Ayodele, former Purdue football defensive end, co-captain of the 2001 Rose Bowl team and NFL linebacker.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>Akin, a Texas native, shares how former Purdue football head coach Joe Tiller’s tough love helped him develop the mental strength that shaped his success, both athletically and academically.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>You’ll also hear Akin discuss his professional football career, his friendship with former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees and how his gratitude for the scholarship assistance he received at Purdue compelled him to establish Dreambuilders Foundation. This nonprofit works with athletes across America to help children in need receive the items, opportunities and support they need to achieve their dreams.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>Akin’s inspiring story of perseverance exemplifies the Boilermaker spirit.&nbsp;</p>

Kate Young: Hi, I'm Kate Young, and you are listening to This is Purdue, the official podcast for Purdue University. As a Purdue alum and Indiana native, I know firsthand about the family of students and professors who are in it together, persistently pursuing and relentlessly rethinking. Who are the next game changers, difference makers, ceiling breakers, innovators? Who are these Boilermakers? Join me as we feature students, faculty and alumni taking small steps toward their giant leaps and inspiring others to do the same.

Akin Ayodele: For me, all my accomplishments, everything I've done in my life, nobody does great things by themselves. Every talent needs great people to be successful. And that's one of the things that I'm aware of. And I know that I am very fortunate that somebody gave to Purdue so that I could have a scholarship that changed my life.

Kate Young: Akin Ayodele is a former Purdue football defensive end, co- captain of the 2001 Rose Bowl team and NFL linebacker. Football is part of his identity yes, but this episode is about so much more. You just heard Akin say that receiving a scholarship to play for Purdue literally changed his life. And that Purdue scholarship later compelled him to establish his Dreambuilders Foundation. A nonprofit that works with athletes across America to help children in need. We'll get to that in a few minutes, though. Buckle up, because Akin's inspiring story of perseverance exemplifies the Boilermaker spirit. We'll kick it off with Akin's life before Purdue. He's a Texas native, so how did he find out about a Big Ten school in West Lafayette, Indiana? And what was his path from high school to junior college to ultimately coming to Purdue? So you went to high school in Texas. How did you first find out about Purdue?

Akin Ayodele: Oh, wow. So you want to go that far back?

Kate Young: Going back.

Akin Ayodele: What's interesting is I knew nothing about Purdue. And I think I was looking to sign with one of the Texas schools. Originally, I actually believed I was committing to University of Texas. And a guy named by which some of you might know, Danny Hope, came to school and he wanted to meet with me. He asked my high school coach at the time, which was Johnny Ringo, and asked to meet with me in between class. And so I go and I see this guy, and he's like,"Yeah, I'm from Purdue University." And I was like," Purdue? Okay. Where is that?" I thought this might have been a D2, D3 school and no. After we had our conversation and I did some research, come to find out it was a big school, it was a Big Ten in Indiana of all places. And I still never thought that would be where I would attend, but it worked out.

Kate Young: Yeah. How did you decide? Ultimately, you probably had different offers to go different places inaudible-

Akin Ayodele: I did, I did. Danny Hope was really instrumental. We connected. Funny story, when I finally opened up to the idea of possibly going to Purdue, he was going to make an official visit to come visit me and my mom and my siblings. So where I lived at the time, because my mom had moved from the city where I was at school, my senior year, I would drive 30 plus minutes to school every day, every morning. So I was staying with my mom at the time. And when he flew in, he was asking for directions. Now, I'm old enough to say back then we didn't have cell phones, where you could just use your iPhone, your maps in your phone or your Android. You actually had to go through MapQuest or just ask somebody. And they'll tell you to look at either the stop sign, a building, that kind of era. And so I told him," Yeah." I said," Go north on 360, take a right on... Look for this big old church with this sign, and take a right there." But for some reason, I'm dyslexic, and so at that point, I'm telling him to go the opposite way of where he was supposed to go in coming to meet us. And so he spends two hours driving the suburb of Dallas, trying to find me. And finally, he calls like," Hey, man. I don't know, I think I'm lost. Blah, blah, blah." And finally, I realized I told him the wrong directions, and he cussed me out. He cussed me out. And it was one of those times I was like,"What?" But finally we got him the right directions and he came, we laughed about it. And my mom had a good conversation with him. I had a good conversation with him. And I think at that point I knew something might happen. And so long story short, I got in a car wreck my senior year during the spring, I was in and out of school. I became ineligible to play division one football. And so I had to go to junior college. Went to junior college. Danny Hope also had a big part of this, he said," Don't worry will get you into school." He suggested Coffeyville, Kansas would be a good place for me to go to school. I'm a Texas kid leaving Texas to go all the way up to Kansas. And I ended up going to Coffeyville, Kansas. Coffeyville, Kansas was so small, our locker room was a barn essentially, and just stacked shells in there. But also it was one of the great decisions that I made, small town vibe with great people, great experience. And Scott Downing was assigned to be my recruiter at that point. And he would come down much as he could, visit with me. And so when I had the opportunity to leave Coffeyville, I did well at Coffeyville, I was All American JCE defensive player of the year. I had the opportunity to go to anywhere in the country and because of my relationship with Danny Hope and Scott Downing and the bond that we built in that year, year and a half period, I knew Purdue was where I wanted to go.

Kate Young: ...So you get to Purdue, you're a Texas boy. What was that like? Was it a culture shock? Did Kansas help you inaudible?

Akin Ayodele: It was a shock. At the time I flew up on my visit, I think it might have been," The worst winter that we've had." So I'm thinking it could never get any worse than the recruiting visit. I get there and I was a midyear, so December, January. Within two days of being on campus, there was a blizzard. There was a blizzard and I'm having to figure out... Texas kid, I don't think I owned a warm coat, boots and having to figure it out. So I just layered it up, I would wear two pairs of socks. I went to Walmart, bought some long johns, wear jeans. I would wear a shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater. This is a true story, a sweater. Then I think I borrowed a jacket from a teammate and I walked through campus. So by the time I got to class, I was dripping wet. I was sweating from having all that layers on. Yeah, it was a culture shock.

Kate Young: So we know now that Akin's journey at Purdue, wasn't exactly a typical one. But I could tell immediately that Purdue means so much to him 20 years later. I asked Akin why he chooses to stay involved with his alma mater and his answer was an emotional one. What would you say when you think about Boilermaker spirit and the community? And you're still very generous and give back, and you're here with us during this Maple's Weekend. What does that mean to you? Why was that important to stay passionate about Purdue and to give back?

Akin Ayodele: For me, all my accomplishments, everything I've done in my life, nobody does great things by themselves. Every talent needs great people to be successful. That's one of the things that I'm aware of and I know that I am very fortunate that somebody gave to Purdue, so that I could have a scholarship that changed my life. What a lot of people don't know is, I grew up in a single parent household. I am the oldest of four, I'm dyslexic, I have ADD. I've never met my father, we grew up in a tough neighborhood. And that somebody took a chance on this kid who had all of these red flags and said," You're okay to come here. And you are okay to learn and you are okay to play ball. And you're okay to get exposed. And you're okay to me." I used to wear my hat really low and I had this one hat, it was my favorite hat. It was a Polo golf hat. I don't know where I found it. I wore so much that it had the threads just hanging off. And Joe Tiller hated that hat. He threatened me one time I wore the hat in the interview. He threatened me that if I ever wore it again, I was going to have to do some extra inaudible. But I would wear this hat. When I first got to Purdue, I would see these people, I called people from Indiana country. And I'm from the country, but I called people in Indiana country. Like I don't know about these country people. They looking at me funny or they looking at my hat and all of a sudden they just would embrace me. All of a sudden they would invite me to their dorm or they would invite me to their party. Or they invite me to come hang out. The warmth and the friendliness of the culture that we have in West Lafayette and Purdue university. I find myself letting my guards down. I find myself embracing this new culture and the people that now I'm meeting, I call family and friends. That to this day, I can pick up my phone and call. That alone is part of why I give back and why I feel that it is important to reach back and give. Because somebody gave to you for you to get to your goal. Somebody gave to you for you to accomplish your dreams, and that you have to go ahead and turn around and also open those doors. So others too can reach theirs.

Kate Young: I really love the way Akin describe the Purdue culture right there. Akin also touches on why he continues to support and give back to the university through president's council. Part of the Purdue for Life Foundation.

Akin Ayodele: I feel honored, one. And in the fact that my generation, I can be represented for my generation. I look at it as an opportunity to open up doors for more people, to have a voice to the table. And to really just give a unique perspective from my lens and from those who are similar to me. I like the fact that we have that and I'm honored to be part of it.

Kate Young: Akin played football for Purdue during a pivotal time. We're talking the Drew Brees Big Ten title winning 2001 Rose Bowl era here. And this era was all under former Purdue football coach, Joe Tiller, who was hired by Purdue in 1997 and remains the winningest football coach in school history. Akin discusses what it was like playing for Coach Tiller who had high expectations and wanted his team to give it everything they had. What was it like playing for Coach Tiller? He had such a reputation.

Akin Ayodele: Yeah, he did. And he'd played mind games with you.

Kate Young: Tell us about that.

Akin Ayodele: Yeah, so you had to be careful. It's almost kind of which side of the bed was he waking up on. But the one thing about Coach Tiller, he was consistent. He was very consistent. He treated everybody fairly. He had expectations and he had standards. And as long as you were very true and intentional about living up to it and working hard being a player that wanted to succeed by just giving everything you have and being truthful, he gave you chances. He gave you chances, even when guys had messed up. As long as you could tell they were work and try, he gave them chances. For me, my biggest lesson but I'm story guy. So I like stories.

Kate Young: We love stories, too.

Akin Ayodele: Biggest lesson. One of the coldest practices, my first year at Purdue don't remember who were playing. So I finally had my mom or somebody send a jacket up to me and that's back in the day when starter jackets were popular. And so for some reason of all the jackets she could send, it was a Philadelphia Eagles jacket. And I wore that jacket everywhere. Even though I grew up in Dallas Cowboys, she somehow found the Philadelphia Eagles jacket. And she sent that to me. Practice where I can't remember around time, but I once say around three, four o'clock that's when practice was back then. And it was probably 20 something degrees, I'm sorry. And we had to practice, our socks were tube socks for practice. We did have long sleeves, but for some reason I said," You know what, I'm going..." I had this bright idea to wear my starter jacket underneath my shoulder pads. So I wear tube socks, put everything else on pads, pants. And I put my starter jacket, then put my shoulder pads on top of my starter jacket. And I walk out the practice and guys are laughing and Tiller looks at me and all he does, he sticks his hand out and points to the locker room. Said," Go back."" Like what?" Go back and tells our equipment manager, Mike, to take all my long sleeves, anything that was warm, take it away and just give me the tube socks and the short sleeved shirt. And that's why I had word for practice for the entire season. What he was trying to teach me was to be tough. What he was trying to teach me was I can't control the elements. I can't control anything exterior outside of me. All I can control is me. And so from that moment on, I had to build mental toughness and build tough skin to get through the winter conditions. And so for my entire Purdue career and my entire professional career, I never wore long sleeves for games. From that point, from that day on, I never wore long sleeves. Now I played in negative six degree weather in Kansas City when I played for the Dolphins. I played in Green Bay twice.

Kate Young: I was going to ask about Green Bay.

Akin Ayodele: Yeah. I played in Green Bay twice where it was freezing cold and snowing and never wore long sleeves.

Kate Young: So he toughened you up?

Akin Ayodele: He toughened me up. Yeah. But he had a way of doing that. It wasn't a direct he just had a way of making you think or challenge you mentally so that not physically, you could be tough, or you could understand the lesson.

Kate Young: In 2000, the Boilermakers won their first Big Ten title in 33 years. And there was a certain Big Ten quarterback, aside from Drew, that Akin specifically remembers playing with during that time. I'll give you all some hints. He spent his first 20 seasons in the NFL with the new England Patriots. He's the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl in three separate decades. And he holds nearly every major quarterback record. Plus has the most Pro bowl selections. He has now retired and unretired. Oh, and he's widely regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time. The goat, if you will. I'll let Akin explain who I'm talking about if you haven't guessed already.

Akin Ayodele: There's so many memories from Purdue and the victories, the style of victories thinking the Notre Dame game where Willie Fells, sits on the football and the clock runs out to the inaudible playing against Tom Brady. I dropped the interception against Tom Brady. We played against Michigan where there was just beating us down in the first half. And the second half we come back. Travis Dorsch kicked the game winning field goal to capturing the Big Ten Championship and birth to Rose Bowl and against our nemesis, IU. To me, those and a lot more, but especially the Michigan and the IU gain to win the Big Ten sticks out the most. One for the Michigan because of the style, the way we did it. We weren't having a good game on the first day. Defensively we were getting inaudible. I believe they probably scored on every single possession that first half. And we go back in locker room was dead silent. Nobody was saying anything until it was optimistic and positive. I think Matt Mitchell might have yelled one time, but there was something in the air. And we knew that this wasn't us. And we figured it out. I moved from defensive end to linebacker the second half and just kept going back and forth. And we managed to just kept pushing and fighting and fighting. And we knew if we could get the ball to Drew and the offense they would put points out. And that was our golden ticket. Just give the offense, the ball. And we finally figured out and kept stopping them. The IU game, the sea of Purdue fans. And unless you can see, I'm getting chills, just talking about that. The sea of Purdue fans, that to me was so memorable. And so it's still vivid in my mind and standing there and seeing all the fans run out on the field and stand. And I don't remember who were giving out the roses, but just seeing them around us and seeing how happy and how excited the entire fan base and the hard work for my teammates. Those were great moments.

Kate Young: I could tell after hearing those football memories, Akin certainly still has a special place in his heart for Purdue football. Okay so yes, Tom Brady is an exceptional quarterback. But Purdue produced one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time too, Drew Brees. Akin explains what it was like playing with this NFL record setting quarterback. And it's clear Drew was a leader both on and off the field.

Akin Ayodele: It was great. He was great. He is the ultimate teammate. He was a natural leader. He's a competitor. He was friendly. He was humble. He never felt that all the attention and all the records that he was breaking was above anybody else. He felt that he wanted to be one of the boys. He wanted to be one of the teammates. That to me was something I take away that I respect from the outside of football, outside of the accolades and the accomplishments on the grid iron, just the way he moved and carried himself. And to this day I was with him at the Rose Bowl reunion last year. And we've stayed in contact. For a person who has accomplished so much and has done so much for others, he's still regular. And he wants to be that guy that you can count on. I love that about him and we can use that term or that endearment with each other. Just because we've had that rapport and respect for him, his wife and all this accomplishment and his family. And he's a great guy.

Kate Young: By the way, we really want to get Drew on This is Purdue. So Drew, if you're listening, we'd love to have you. Have your people get with my people. So we've heard some awesome behind the scenes football stories from Akin, but he actually shared something really interesting about his career path with me before our interview officially started. Akin discusses his academic journey well at Purdue. What about the academic side? Did you have any favorite mentors or professors, classes at Purdue?

Akin Ayodele: inaudible-

Kate Young: Well, tell me previously you wanted to be an astronaut.

Akin Ayodele: Oh, you just going to tell my dark secrets? So young elementary, middle school, high school, early on in high school, I've always been enamored by the stars and planets. I said, when I grow up, I go to college, I want to be an astronaut. And part of choosing Purdue was because I knew they had a good program and a good engineering program and astronomy program. And so I wanted to say," Okay, maybe that could actually happen." And you get there and you start learning and understand that," Well, maybe my mind just doesn't work that way." But it took me a while because... So when I was younger, I actually won awards for painting. And I would always paint planets, stars. I had a good eye, had a good hand and I guess artsy at the time. But none of that equated to, I guess, becoming international or even having a mind for that. So yeah, academically I chose a different route. I think my first... I took a psychology class. So I studied psychology and wanted to know a bit more and which actually helped me also as an athlete and as a football player into my career, my pro career.

Kate Young: Speaking of Akin's pro career, I asked him how he navigated life in the NFL after being drafted in 2002, by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Akin Ayodele: I had a great college career for me. I would say I having 30 plus acts in three years that I was there. Being a two year captain, being a team MVP. For me it was good, but I never still saw myself as a NFL caliber player. Got drafted to Jacksonville Jaguar in 2002. And I was around guys that you would watch. And you were so enamored by their athleticism and their accomplishments. Fred Taylor, who was a first round draft pick big 6'1 235, ran a 43:40 and 40-. Wow, he had that size if he became my teammate. Tony Brackens, who went to Texas. To me one of the most athletic and smartest defensive linemen that I've ever met. And I got to practice with him and play with him. Hugh Douglas all these guys that I watched and were pro bowlers and all of a sudden I'm in the same locker room, I'm on the same practice field. And to understand that it is a grown man's game. These guys were phenomenal athletes. They were such professionals. They were such... Everybody worked hard. And to realize there's another level of being a professional or being an NFL player. So you have two choices. You can either play out to the level and work your butt off and show up every single day and be great. Or you can tuck your toe between your legs and walk away and say," This is not for me." But being at Purdue and being around the staff that we had, Danny Hope, Scott Downing, Coach Melvin, Coach Eman, Coach Green, Jim Taney, Coach Olson. All these coaches taught us so much at such an early age that it was transferable into the league. All I knew at the time was keep your head down, show up, be accountable, work hard, and compete. And I knew if I could do those things, I gave myself a real shot. I didn't know if I was going to make the team, even though I was a third round pick. I didn't know if I would ever see the field. Matter of fact, my first NFL game was against Indianapolis Colts inaudible. I did not see one down of defense, one down of defense. I played special teams, but I didn't see one down of defense. And all of a sudden, my second game of my rookie year was against Kansas City Chief. And all of a sudden, right before the game, the head coach gets in my ear and says," Akin Ayodele you're starting this game. Get in the game." To go from not playing to playing. But all that, all those attributes and all those lessons from Purdue prepared me for moments like that. It was hard. It was tough. It was a lot of work, but I was able to play as long as I did because of my time. And because of the people that were around me at Purdue.

Kate Young: After a successful eight seasons in the NFL, Akin, retired and headed to grad school. He discusses life after professional football. And what about post NFL? I'm sure Purdue has prepared you for that as well, because at some point football ends for everyone, right?

Akin Ayodele: It ends yeah. Most people leave the game, not on their own accord and have to figure it out. I was fortunate to call it quits. At the time I did, I chose to go to grad school, went to George Washington University and then I moved to New York. Worked for a wealth management company and I did that for a short time. And then some of the partners and the wealth manage company transitioned and asked me to join them. And we formed a partnership to start our own wealth management private equity company called Eagle Rock. Which I then headed, led the private equity side of the business. I did that for seven years and life then hit you and you have to pivot, which was the pandemic. And at the time I was traveling a lot. My wife now, we were engaged planning to get married, but we were both a lot of times, two ships in a night traveling because she was the top, the lead educator for a skincare line called Tata Harper. And she had the entire Midwest and Southeast region. And I was traveling because we lived in Dallas. My business was in New Jersey and traveling back and forth to New Jersey. And so I knew that wasn't a life that I wanted. We both talked about it and we decided to make a pivot. And so I pivoted into the insurance business. I was asked by the leadership of world insurance, who I now work for, to be part of their team, part of the leadership team and to help them grow. And so now I'm a business development executive for world insurance and that's been cool. I'm a lifelong learner. Purdue sparked that. My academics and the relationships and teachers that I met there sparked that and gave me confidence that it was okay. I'm dyslexic. I was diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or whatever it is at a young age. So that was a challenge growing up. And I always thought that because of those labels, that I was going to be conformed to a box and I had tapped out at a certain point. But when I got to Purdue, I made the Dean's list. I was able to get through my classes, even I knew it was challenging. I got all the help and resources that I needed to get through all that. And that really gave me confidence that I could push myself academic... I could push myself intellectually. And so going through new stages in life, isn't necessarily as difficult. There's a challenge there, but it's just a matter of the work you want to put into it. Going from finance to insurance was just about us making a decision and moving forward with it. So I'm excited. I'm learning. I've only been at it for nine months now, and it's been a great journey so far.

Kate Young: What was it like adjusting? The NFL's probably so fast paced. What was it like going to kind of a nine to five job for you?

Akin Ayodele: The biggest adjustment was not having your time set for you. So when you playing football high school, college, pros, there's a certain time of year and you know exactly what you're doing to the tee. You know where you going to be, who you going to be around. It's very predictable going from that to all of a sudden, now I call it civilian life. Either you go corporate or you become an entrepreneur and start your own business. There's so much that's out of your control. And you don't know what the day could look like. You could be in Dallas at nine o'clock and could be in New York at 3: 30. So much could go on then and having to navigate that, having to navigate your own schedule, having to allow others and trust in others to set your schedule for you. Corporate life is different. It's so much different, but I would say being an athlete I believe, and I also looked for athletes. People who've had an athletic background, not that they had to play professionally, but who competed had an extracurricular activity outside of that, because there's some disciplines that goes with that. And there's a lot of positive attributes that come from that that they could transition into a business or into corporate life. We look for that. And I look for that in myself, I know personally that that has what's got me through all the different stages in life. It's like you go through this one stage here, but it's really you're going through that just to prepare you for that next stage and all the stages of football. The evolution of that in my life has really prepared me for all these pivots and all these transitions that I've gone through.

Kate Young: As we discussed earlier in this episode, a Purdue football scholarship helped transform Akin's life. And 16 years ago, Akin decided he wanted to pay it forward and created Dreambuilders, a 501( c)( 3) nonprofit that works with athletes across America to help children in need. The foundation works hand in hand with local schools and organizations to provide disadvantaged children with items and experiences most other kids take for granted. These include items like shoes, backpacks, or winter coats, and even school uniforms, sports equipment or birthday and Christmas gifts. But the program's Dreambuilder supports are never one size fits all. For example, professional athletes who are looking for ways to give back can get involved with forming scholarships, weekend food backpack programs. School food pantries and upgrades to activity spaces like playgrounds and sports fields where kids can stay active. A number of pro athletes like the Indianapolis Colts' Kenny Moore and the Detroit Pistons' Cade Cunningham, are part of Dreambuilders. Akin discusses why Dreambuilders is a great choice for certain athletes who want to give back to their communities and pay it forward, but may not know exactly what steps to take to do that.

Akin Ayodele: Dream Builders Foundation was originally Akins Path. Akins Path was a mentoring program for high school students. Every year I would pick five high school students where I would mentor and I would take them to do community activities. We would get them tutors for subject centered programs that they needed extra help in. We'd also take their parents out on a trip. What I noticed was that there were a lot of athletes in my locker room that wanted to do good, but had a hard time navigating and setting up their non- for- profits at 501( c)( 3). So I thought to okay, let's try to create something that we could bring everybody in underneath the same umbrella that supported them and covered all their issues, all their legal challenges or their setup challenges. Because what I saw was either my teammates were getting... People were taking advantage of them. They were spending a lot of money that wasn't being used properly or there were some legal issues because of that. So I set up Dreambuilders Foundation. One, it's kids and youth initiatives. We focus on education, extracurricular activities and nutrition. The other part of the Dreambuilders is we partner with professional athletes, basketball, NBA, NFL and baseball, MLB athletes to be captains. And as long as it's kids and youth initiative or program that they want to support or it's their own foundation that they want to partner with, we join forces together. And it's all really about supporting kids with challenges, with academic challenges, kids who want to have an extracurricular activity. And it's not just sports. You might have a kid who wants to learn an instrument. We find ways to support that and find resources. You might have kids that use leagues that maybe don't have equipment. We support that we partnered many years ago with Amazon and the Kindle because we had regions where kids were having reading issues and reading literacies. So we said, let's partner with a tech company that put a program in these Amazon Kindles that help kids to learn how to read better. These are all creative programs that we set up over the years and we're 16 years into it. And even though I'm not a professional athlete anymore, we're still able to support programs. We're still able to partner with different athletes across the country. I think right now we have close to 30 different athletes that are part of our... Professional athletes that are part of our organization, that partner with us. And we have over 10 corporate partners that regionally sponsor or supports our programs.

Kate Young: That's really unique. That's cool.

Akin Ayodele: Thank you. Over the last 10 years, we've raised over$ 4 million and donated those$ 4 million back into the community.

Kate Young: Wow. Talk about a giant leap. Dreambuilders Foundation is truly making a difference in so many kids' lives across the country. And if you'd like to learn more about this foundation, head over to dreambuildersfoundation. com. I asked Akin what he thinks of when he reflects back on his time at Purdue.

Akin Ayodele: I became a man at Purdue and I found my calling at Purdue. The person I am now is because of the seeds that people planted in me at Purdue. And I'm grateful for the experiences, the relationships and the opportunity to attend a university that cares about its alumni and to continue to grow with it. Even though I live all the way here in South Florida, or even when I was in Texas, I've had a connection with the university and then reaching back, supporting me or me supporting them. And that I'm grateful for that relationship and have that kinship with everybody there.

Kate Young: What would you say if you're out in Texas or Florida, you're wearing your Purdue stuff, do you ever get some Boiler up stir?

Akin Ayodele: Oh yeah. Most randomly. And I've actually here in South Florida, I've noticed there's actually more Purdue fans, more Purdue alums than I realized, which I love. It gives me confidence to wear, because they're hostile down here. That's a different climate. They're kind of hostile down here. But I have more confidence now to wear my Purdue gear, knowing that I could possibly run into a Purdue fan or Purdue alum.

Kate Young: Okay. So we know Akin is still proud to wear his Purdue gear, but does he still follow Purdue athletics all these years later? Do you still follow the football program or any of the athletics?

Akin Ayodele: Oh yeah. All of it because now I'm old enough to wear... Some of my teammates actually have kids that are in college and are attending Purdue. Rosevelt Colvin his daughter who plays volleyball at Purdue.

Kate Young: Oh amazing.

Akin Ayodele: So I follow football, basketball, swimming, soccer, a lot of the programs just because of still my relationship and connection to the university.

Kate Young: And you talked a little bit about you get chills when you think of all the Purdue fans at certain games, what does that spirit in that community mean to you?

Akin Ayodele: We played for each other most of the time at Purdue, but there was a sense of pride knowing that you had loyal fans and students, especially the student section that watch and support you. The cool part of that is when we were on campus, especially when I was there, you would have just the most authentic conversations. Yes, they cared that you was a football player and that they watched you, but they genuinely like care. Like you are a person that we would just have the most random conversation about if it's your family or a dog or something that just would light your day. Because it wasn't just about access in the hallway." How come didn't you missed that tackle? Or how come we lost that game? Or how did we win that game?" No, it was something offkey that grounded you. And so that connection to the fans, that connection to the alumni, that connection to all those who really support you means a lot. It means a lot. And I know the athletes there now have that same connection. And with all the success that we're having over the last few years or so years that are coming, I see that could continue to grow and to expand because what I would love for us is to be regularly spoken about in the media. Because I think a lot of times we do get overlooked and I think we can continue to do that academically in our sports as well. And in all the programs it's okay to pat yourself. Tiller used to say this," I love me some me." I love you got to love you some you and it's okay to tell people and tell the world that you love you some you. So let's love us from Purdue. Let's love us in time and continue to connect.

Kate Young: And what does Akin have to say about the Boilermaker Spirit, to all of those loyal Purdue football fans out there,

Akin Ayodele: All my stories, what is always attached to it, is the fan base. And the reasons why we sometimes you have that ebb and flow of a game, but the highs of the games are because the support and the vibe, like I'm not necessarily an emotional person or this person that's like vibe vibes or feelings. But there's something about playing a game and you can feel the energy of people in the stands. You can feel the energy of the fans and to continue that support to continue to show up I know it's snowing now. Thank God. It's not football season. But when season is there rain, sleep, snow, sun, support be there. We love it. When they're in the stands, we love it when they're tuning, we love it when they tailgate, we love it when they show up and out there. So continue to do that, know that your energy is felt by the players and just continue just to be all around.

Kate Young: Akin left us with the final thought about a new idea for This is Purdue.

Akin Ayodele: Continue to watch this podcast. Support. We should have a call in one time inaudible. Like a Twitter session where I guess you would've to be live, right?

Kate Young: Yeah. We could go live right now.

Akin Ayodele: We should go live.

Kate Young: That would be awesome.

Akin Ayodele: That could be the next iteration of this.

Kate Young: I like it.

Akin Ayodele: I love it. Our podcast team really enjoyed sitting down with Akin. His energy is contagious. If you'd like to watch our full video interview with Akin in Naples, head over to youtube. com/ purdue. You don't want to miss this one. Thanks for listening to This is Purdue. For more information on this episode, visit our website at purdue. edu/ podcast. There you can head over to your favorite podcast app to subscribe and leave us a review. And as always, Boiler Up.


In this episode of “This Is Purdue,” we're talking to Akin Ayodele, former Purdue football defensive end, co-captain of the 2001 Rose Bowl team and NFL linebacker.  

Akin, a Texas native, shares how former Purdue football head coach Joe Tiller’s tough love helped him develop the mental strength that shaped his success, both athletically and academically. 

You’ll also hear Akin discuss his professional football career, his friendship with former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees and how his gratitude for the scholarship assistance he received at Purdue compelled him to establish Dreambuilders Foundation. This nonprofit works with athletes across America to help children in need receive the items, opportunities and support they need to achieve their dreams. 

Akin’s inspiring story of perseverance exemplifies the Boilermaker spirit.