Versatile Adekunle Ayinde fills in gaps on Gophers defense

Ayinde started at safety the first game of the year, now he has moved to corner as the injuries have piled up.

Jack Warrick

After losing his starting position in the 2016 season, cornerback Adekunle Ayinde filled a hole on the depleted Gophers secondary in their final game against Washington State.

Ayinde proved why he should have been on the field when he jumped a bad pass, made the interception and ran it back for a touchdown to give Minnesota a two-possession lead with three minutes to go in fourth quarter.

This season, Ayinde has filled holes on Minnesota’s defense once again. The redshirt senior has started at two different defensive back positions, three if you count nickel back, in five of six games this year, and he’s made 24 tackles, three pass break-ups and an interception.

“You’re thin to begin with as it is, and you’re starting to look down that depth chart saying, ‘oh my goodness.’” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “Then you start talking about [Ayinde], well [Ayinde’s] played safety, he’s played corner. Now he’s the starter, and all he’s done is gotten better.”

Ayinde has adapted well to the new position and has developed into a leader on defense.

He tied a career-high with nine tackles, one for a 5-yard loss, and a broken-up pass in last week’s victory over Illinois. It was his first start at a true cornerback position.

“I’ll tell you what, I thought he was elite for us this past week,” defensive coordinator Robb Smith said. “He made some big plays, made some tackles for losses, was awesome in coverage for us and he’s going to be challenged.”

Ayinde played nickel back before Illinois, giving the defense a fifth player in the backfield. He started the first game at safety alongside now-injured Antoine Winfield, Jr. but did not play in the Oregon State game.

He said he practiced at corner a little during the spring, but he has never gotten game experience before now.

“I’m just willing to do whatever for the team because I just want to see us be successful,” Ayinde said. “And I know there’s a lot of seniors that have been here for five years, some for four, and just seeing those guys just finish it out right, it’s just a big deal to me.”

Recruited as a walk-on out of Blaine, Minnesota, Ayinde only recorded 11 tackles in his senior year of high school, but then-head coach Jerry Kill saw something and gave him a preferred walk-on spot.

Three years later, Ayinde earned a scholarship after starting 11 of 13 games in 2015 and notching 43 tackles in his redshirt sophomore season.

“I think [walking on] just kind of helped me as far as just understanding my work ethic,” Ayinde said. “Just understanding like how I need to approach each day, how I need to set goals and how I need to go about doing that.”

Ayinde was a President’s Award winner in high school and has big dreams on the student side of the student-athlete phrase.

He is majoring in kinesiology, the study of body movements, and he said he wants to go into the field of sports performance when his days of helping secondaries are over.

“And the big dream is kind of just owning a bunch of sports facilities and helping people achieve their goals through sports performance and training and different things like that,” Ayinde said.