LYNN — The 2017 season was a building year for the KIPP Academy football team. KIPP, in its first year as a football program, tossed itself into action against a handful of established teams and finished the season at 3-7. There were highs and lows throughout the season but the Panthers improved with time.
Now it’s time for KIPP to build on the lessons learned last fall and take the next step in its program’s development. The Panthers built a good sense of chemistry last fall and they’ll need experienced leaders to carry that tradition to this year’s team. One of the players they’ll rely on to lead the way is senior Tomi Oladunjoye.
Oladunjoye, a two-way player, will see time at a mix of different positions. Offensively he’ll get the bulk of his action at running back with snaps at slot receiver. Defensively, he’ll play linebacker and safety.
His versatility, KIPP coach Jim Rabbitt said, will go a long way in helping the Panthers.
“Tomi’s a versatile player,” Rabbitt said. “He’s going to get looks in a few different places. He’s a running back, he’ll get looks at slot receiver, linebacker and safety. That’s because he’s such a smart football player. I’m excited about that. He’ll move around in a few different spots and do his best to help our team win.”
Oladujoye wasted no time during the offseason. He dedicated himself to a strength and conditioning regimen and the results are evident thus far in preseason camp.
“He’s a strong kid,” Rabbitt said. “He’s a gym rat. He works out. He did a program at B.U. this summer and had access to the gym there, put on about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason. He’s a smart kid. He dedicates himself and puts a full commitment to football.”
KIPP’s two weeks into its preseason and Oladunjoye likes the direction of this year’s team.
“As a team we’re doing great,” Oladunjoye said. “We have stuff to work on but that’s what scrimmages are for. We know what we need to do as a team. It’s not just individual things, we win or lose as a team. There’s no lone wolf here. We win as a team and we grow as a team. We’re not backing down from challenges, we face those as a team.”
Building chemistry takes time in football but the Panthers are a step ahead in that department. Oladunjoye credited his teammates and coaches for establishing a positive atmosphere in preseason camp.
“We’re brothers on this team,” Oladunjoye said. “We don’t look down on each other. We always support each other and we always get energized for games. We have a lot of leaders on this team and we’re always encouraged to do better. That’s the culture of football. I’m looking forward to this season and us getting better as a team.
“We learn from our mistakes and we come back better,” Oladunjoye said. “If we make a mistake, we come back better. I’ve seen that in our scrimmages. I’m hoping we keep doing that during the season. We strive to achieve.”
After making a name for himself toward the closing stretch in 2017, Oladunjoye has set the stage for a big season. Rabbitt said Oladunjoye has set the bar high for himself as he enters his senior year.
“It was tough for Tomi to breakout when we had such a dynamic quarterback in Kymani (Morrison),” Rabbitt said. “This year he’ll breakout on both sides of the ball. There’s a lot more of a chance for him to have an impact playing all those spots and being on the field quite a bit.”
But picking up where he left off is much easier said than done. Running backs can’t make game changing plays without a strong offensive line creating the openings. Oladunjoye will depend on his offensive line to do just that and said his linemen have looked solid in camp.
“I can’t make plays if my linemen don’t do their job,” Oladunjoye said. “They deserve a lot of credit for that. As a running back, it’s tough to run because everyone wants to hit you when you have the ball. My linemen are really stepping up their game. They’re having fun and I see they have a dedication in what they’re doing. I can put my trust in my linemen and that’s what we need as a team. I have my their backs and they have my back.”
Oladunjoye doesn’t have any individual goals listed for himself this year. As long as the Panthers continue to bring a positive energy to the field and dedicate themselves to improving each day, Oladunjoye feels they’ll be where they hope to be at the end of the regular season.
“I don’t really have individual goals,” Oladunjoye said. “I have goals for the team. I’m not a lone wolf. It’s not a me thing, it’s a team thing. I can’t do anything without my team. I can’t score touchdowns without my linemen or my receivers blocking for me and if I don’t get the ball, I block for who has the ball. It’s a brotherhood thing. I’m not striving to make plays, I’m striving for the team to make plays.”
KIPP opens the season September 8 when the Panthers visit Greater Lowell Tech.