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Newcomer Profile: Why Oklahoma was the ‘Best School’ for Freshman OL Daniel Akinkunmi

NORMAN — Being from the United Kingdom, Oklahoma offensive lineman Daniel Akinkunmi didn’t grow up watching football.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and 314 pounds, the East London native originally played basketball, saying he never paid much attention to American college sports until he began to have aspirations of playing Division I hoops.

After discovering the NFL Academy in London, however, Akinkunmi transitioned to football during his high school years, quickly gaining interest from schools around the US.

After blossoming into a 3-star prospect, the athletic offensive lineman picked up nearly 30 offers from schools like Clemson, Mississippi, Penn State and Oklahoma. While there were plenty of options for Akinkunmi, he knew OU was the right school for him after meeting Sooners offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.

“It was just a matter of picking the best school for me as a player,” Akinkunmi said in March.

“Less about money, but more about what school can develop me. That’s the reason I came here, Coach B is an amazing coach, and I just need someone to literally shout down my throat and be like ‘I need you to do this detail, this detail, that detail.’ I don’t need a coach who thinks i’m ready or a coach who’s going to be soft on me because that does nothing for me. The best way I learn is by making mistakes. … Me and Coach B was talking about it in the recruiting game, he said the reason some of the guys in the NFL are so good is because they just worked hard. They all had the mentality to just keep on going, keep on working, and I feel like I already have that mentality.“ 

Following his final season at the NFL Academy, Akinkunmi made the trip to Orlando back in January to compete in the Under Armour All-American game, where he had multiple solid reps in practice against highly rated defensive lineman with much more experience on the football field.

While the early enrollee didn’t win every rep he took, Akinkunmi was able to show off his strength and ability to anchor, holding his own in a handful of one-on-one drills against talented defensive lineman. With long arms, big hands, impressive play-strength and willingness to be coached hard, the young offensive lineman has the chance to develop into a solid player under Bedenbaugh’s tutelage.

Observers at the All-American game weren’t the only people impressed by Akinkunmi’s strength, however, as the freshman guard said that he has surprised the OU coaching staff with his performance in the weight room.

“I’ve absolutely loved the weight program with Coach Schmitty. I think Coach (Jerry Schmidt) has been surprised at how strong I am for my age,” Akinkunmi said. “I think the whole staff in general has been very surprised with how strong I am for my age, but I’ve just loved it. I love to embrace it and loved to absolutely just dive in and be 100 percent committed.” 

Despite being so new to the game, Akinkunmi has already proven that he is more prepared to contribute early in his career than some people may think. Still, the first-year player has plenty to learn before he is ready to hold up against SEC defensive linemen on a regular basis.

Akinkunmi acknowledged that he still needs work before becoming a solid collegiate offensive lineman, but feels that Oklahoma’s coaching staff is the perfect bunch to help transform him into the player he hopes to become.

“For me it’s just about learning, absorbing what they’re doing here and just taking it full speed and trying to be able to do it at the level they want me to do it at here,” Akinkunmi said. “I’ve been doing it for a long time. So they were very surprised at my movements, how much I’m lifting, I just want to keep on impressing and keep on doing my thing.” 

With an inexperienced group along the Sooners’ offensive line in 2024, Akinkunmi could provide important depth at the guard position, especially if there is an injury to one of the players ahead of him on the two-deep.

Unfortunately for OU, the freshman suffered an injury in spring practice and was seen on a scooter with a protective boot on his right leg last Friday. Still, with Akinkunmi’s mentality, physical traits and solid foundation, he will have a chance to see the field in the coming seasons if he is able to develop under Bedenbaugh and company.

“It’s been amazing, I’m absolutely loving it here. I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Akinkunmi said. “I’m just happy to be here and be able to compete and have an opportunity to play and be here and learn an amazing sport I just don’t know. I feel like I’m a little kid in this sport, I barely know anything, but it’s amazing to be around such an amazing staff who knows so much about it.”

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