When Babatunde (“Babs”) Aiyegbusi walks into a room—or onto a football field—you’ll notice him. At 6’9″, 351 lbs, Aiyegbusi is hard to miss. When the two of us meet for an interview, my 4’11” frame next to his is comical, to say the least, and he offers a firm but friendly handshake that engulfs my hand in his own.
But there is a lot more to Babs than just his size. He’s an incredible athlete, a hard worker, a fast learner, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
When the Vikings first signed Aiyegbusi, shortly after he traveled from Poland for a workout in San Antonio, one of the main stories behind the lineman was his lack of football experience. After all, Aiyegbusi never played college football. He’s been called a number of things by scouts: “raw,” “rookie,” “project.”
Aiyegbusi has played for a German league team since 2012; I ask him if these “newbie” labels bother him. He grins, shaking his head no.
I’ll take whatever they call me,” he says. “It’s all true. I came here to develop. The only things I brought [were] physical ability and a heart to play football. I love this game, and I know with hard work I can achieve a lot […]. I’m here to develop, to work on my technique, to be useful for the team. That is my goal.
Aiyegbusi speaks highly of the NFL coaches and trainers here, saying he trusts them completely to understand his abilities and his role on the team.
“The National Football League, the Minnesota Vikings—this is more than a name, colors, a brand. These are people who have knowledge; they know me better than I do.”
The 27-year-old has learned quite a bit about himself over the years, however; he may be fairly new to the pigskin, but he is no stranger to athletics. Growing up in Poland, Aiyegbusi participated in everything from judo to handball. He played basketball all four years of high school, and he struggled with fouling out of games because he often knocked guys down beneath the basket.
Luckily, that’s not a problem in football.
When Aiyegbusi was 18, a random stranger approached him and urged him to try playing American football. So he did. Before long, he fell in love with the sport.
Aiyegbusi played football from that point on, and during the NFL season he and his friends would hang out and stay up all night to watch the games, despite the time difference.
The Minnesota Vikings may not be the most popular team overseas, but Aiyegbusi followed them closely after first noticing Adrian Peterson back in 2012. When Peterson tore his ACL that December, the lineman followed his entire recovery process, in awe of his comeback.
When [Adrian] made his way back onto the field and was actually a better player after his injury, it proved that everything is at the highest level here [in the NFL] … and with the hardest work, you can achieve mountains.
The Vikings are giving Aiyegbusi a chance, and he recognizes that. That’s all he asks for.
For Aiyegbusi, every morning is an opportunity to work hard and seize an opportunity. Most things at practice are new for the lineman, but he’s continuing to improve the basics–hand placement, speed, lowering his head–and absorbing as much knowledge as he can.
“As a big guy, I need to get low so I don’t just get bull-rushed,” Aiyegbusi explains. “I’m getting low, getting my footwork down, putting my hands in the right place […]. Coach Jeff [Davidson] is a great guy. I trust him completely; whatever he tells me to do, I follow as well as I can.”
Although Aiyegbusi speaks English, a language barrier remains in that he is unfamiliar with most of the NFL lingo used on the practice field. Coach Davidson works with the lineman to ensure he is up to speed, and Aiyegbusi asks plenty of questions to stay on track.
Overall, Aiyegbusi feels great about being in Minnesota, and he hopes to bring a necessary skill set to support a team that has struggled at the offensive line for the past couple of seasons. If he makes the squad, he only plans on working his way up. Aiyegbusi does not take the opportunity lightly:
I’m representing not only my family and my team, but also Poland. There are a lot of guys in Europe looking up to me and wishing me good luck. I’m doing it not only for myself but for my league and for my country.
He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Deep in thought.
“My goal is to work hard, to make the team, and to one day stand in front of the best guys in the NFL.”
You can take his word for it. Aiyegbusi could not be prouder to wear the purple and gold, and he has every intention of making it in this league. After all, he has a lot of height, a lot of muscle, a lot of talent.
And more importantly, he has a lot of heart.