Yale’s Micah Awodiran: Power Five talent thriving in the Ivy League

NEW HAVEN — Spending quality time with Micah Awodiran on July 4 back in 2016 was the easy part for Yale football coach Tony Reno. Hoping there would be no late fireworks in the recruiting process for the highly touted linebacker prospect out of Chicago was an entirely different story.

“He made me work,” Reno said with a laugh earlier this week with Awodiran sitting a foot or two away at the weekly Dick Galiette media luncheon at Mory’s in downtown New Haven.

The recruiting interest was rather intense before Awodiran visited the Yale campus. Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue were the Big Ten programs who extend a scholarship offers to Awodiran in the first two months of 2016. Southeastern Conference programs Vanderbilt, Missouri and Arkansas would follow suit later that year. Duke also had Awodiran on the recruiting radar.

Yet, Awodiran made a decision to commit to Yale less than five weeks after visiting New Haven. So on Saturday rather than being on one side of the Illinois-Minnesota game, joining upset-minded Purdue teammates in a game at Penn State, or stepping onto the field in Oxford, Mississippi, Awodiran will be in the middle of the defense at the Yale Bowl when the undefeated Bulldogs play host to Fordham (1 p.m., NESN).

“The recruiting process was great. I had an opportunity to go to a lot of schools, looking at Big Ten (schools), SEC and stuff like that,” Awodiran said. “When the Ivies came about, it was definitely the unique appeal of the balance of a great academic tradition and great athletic tradition. That was definitely the case with Yale. When I came out here on my visit, I could definitely see the pride the people on the team and even alums that came before had in the program. The real investment that everybody had in upholding the history here, that is one thing that I really wanted to be a part of.”

Recruiting players drawing interest from Power Five conferences may not be as easy as it sounds for the Yale coaching staff. They want to make sure the top-level recruit is choosing the Ivy League for all the right reasons.

“It has to be the right kind of guy,” Reno said. “There are a lot of guys who might have that opportunity who aren’t serious football players and they want to look at something ‘easier’ and then there are the guys who are serious football players who want to look at opportunities that are better life opportunities. We want the latter and we do a lot of work to make sure that it is not the former.”

Awodiran was one of the highest rated Ivy League recruits in the graduating class of 2017. It didn’t take him long to make an impact. He first career sack came against Fordham and he recorded what was then a career high with four solo tackles in a win over Harvard in 2017.

FORDHAM at YALE

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Where: Yale Bowl, New Haven

Records: Fordham, 2-3; Yale, 2-0

On air: NESN, ESPN+

Radio: WELI-960

Last week: Fordham, 23-16 win over Richmond; Yale, 27-16 win over Cornell

History: Yale, 6-3

Last meeting: Yale, 41-10 on Sept. 30, 2017

“He has been a great fit from the start,” Reno said. “I think you are just starting to see Micah (develop) as a player, Micah was on the field the second half of the Ivy League clinching win, he played every play in the second half of that game. You are starting to see him become comfortable being a full time player in the defense and it is a lot of fun to watch.”

Awodiran played in all 10 games as a sophomore and once again saved his best for the top competition as he had 13 tackles against Ivy League champion Princeton and followed that up with a pair of tackles for loss versus Harvard. Awodiran also had 10 tackles in the Ivy opener against Cornell.

The defense experienced some growing pains a season ago, as the graduation of key members of the 2017 team combined with injuries to a number of starters played a role in the Bulldogs giving up up at least 400 yards on five occasions.

It’s a much different story in 2019 as Yale is second in the Ivy League in scoring defense and passing defense while ranking first in interceptions and passing efficiency defense.

“The biggest thing is a lot of guys have a lot of experience and played a lot of snaps of football with each other, there is a great respect and trust that we all have out there,” Awodiran said. “You know that if you do your job that the guy next to you is going to do his. When you have that on a defense, it is just fun to play.”

james.fuller

@hearstmediact.com; @NHRJimFuller