Two years ago, Tobi Akinniranye was just like any other Georgia Southern student.
After blowing out his knee playing high school football at Centennial, he came to GSU to start pursuing a career in medicine, and spent his Saturdays in Paulson Stadium cheering on the Eagles with the rest of the student body.
In 2008, a series of events started to unravel and have now put him into a group of GSU running backs trying to earn the job as the starting B-back – the feature back of the triple option offense.
The high-school injury didn’t keep Akinniranye from running and working out during his first two years of college, but the pain he felt told him he wouldn’t play football again.
“I’d be running and I’d wake up and my knee would be throbbing, so I just didn’t even bother,” said Akinniranye. “I was a fan in the stands for two years. I had hurt my knee and I couldn’t cut or run or anything like that. I love football, so I was just watching (the Eagles), supporting them.”
Then, he decided to play intramural flag football and all of a sudden, Akinnirayne could run again.
“My knee just got better,” he said. “I started playing flag football and said, ‘I’m good,’ and I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m going to try out for the team.’ So I did.”
He tried out for the Georgia Southern Eagles in December of 2008. By the following spring he was working out with the team, and in the fall of 2009 he worked his way into a key role in kick coverage.
He even got a chance to run with the football again when he fielded a kickoff on the 26-yard line against Chattanooga on Oct. 17, 2009 and returned it 27 yards to help set up a field goal that gave GSU a 13-10, halftime lead.
“I was on special teams,” Akinniranye said. “I love playing on kickoff because you get to go down there and hit people. I made some plays on kickoffs. I was doing some things out there.”
Jeff Monken and the rest of the new GSU coaching staff had different plans in mind for him.
“They kind of just decided that I was going to play B-back, and I was a running back (in high school), so I was down for it,” said the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Eagle. “I would have chosen that position anyway, but they chose it for me based on my size and how they thought I’d perform. That’s where I wanted to be, so everything just kind of fit.”
Akinniranye is practicing at fullback with some familiar running backs from 2009 – Zeke Rozier and Brandon Nolley – as well as Lee Banks and Brent Thomas, who were also moved to B-back under the new staff. As far as the players are concerned, the starting role at the position is still up for grabs.
“I think it’s pretty even,” said Akinniranye. “I’m always going to shoot for the best, for the top, but everyone’s good. They know what they’re doing.”
Right now, the future of Akinniranye – both on the field with the Eagles and the next move after he graduates in December – is a question mark.
He’s got the grades for a free ride without an athletic scholarship, and upon graduation, if his No. 1 goal of playing at the next level doesn’t pan out, he’s got a pretty good fall-back plan.
“Everybody in my family’s in a medical field,” he said, “so coming out of high school I just figured, ‘Well shoot, I’ll just go into a pharmacy.’ Then, after about a year (as a pharmaceutical intern) I didn’t really like it. Now my major’s in medicine, and I’ve been in Chemistry/Pre-Med ever since.”
Akinniranye will have one more chance in spring camp to show Monken and the GSU coaching staff what he can do when the Eagles take the field at Paulson Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m. for the Blue and White game.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.