Lion defender puts family as focus

UNIVERSITY PARK – The annual Blue-White game is traditionally one of the highlights of the Penn State community: the return to tailgating, a rowdy Beaver Stadium, and the thought that soon enough, football will be back.

The players are amped to get back on that cherished field and tease the fans for what’s to come in the fall.

For defensive end C.J. Olaniyan, the 2013 spring game stood out compared to all the rest.

And it wasn’t for football.

Shortly after his defense’s 67-47 win in which he had a standout performance, Olaniyan received a phone call that his daughter was on the way. After getting permission from then-coach Bill O’Brien, Olaniyan made the seven-hour journey to his home state of Michigan that night.

After arriving at the hospital around 2 a.m., he made it there to welcome Nahla to the world at 8 a.m. on April 21, 2013.

Now 16 months old, Nahla, as well as Olaniyan’s fiance, Ebony Hines, has changed the way this Lion takes the field.

“The pressure on me to go out there and whatever I do on the field or the practice field, it’s not just about me, it’s about my family,” the Warren, Michigan, native said. “As far as my daughter, my fiance, my family means a lot to me so I put my family on my sleeve every time I’m out there.”

The fifth-year senior’s college career has been a bit atypical, yet beneficial for Olaniyan. After graduating this summer with a degree in criminology, he was voted as one of this season’s captains by his teammates and coaching staff.

Although he’s not the most vocal player on the team, Olaniyan aims to lead by example as he said that it’s important to prove his leadership rather than just speak it. The maturity he has developed since his redshirt season has changed how he approaches the game.

Since the birth of his daughter he has made some major transitions, but has come to realize how his growth as a person can be reflected through both football and his family.

“Having her makes me look at stuff in a different light,” Olaniyan said. “Having my teammates is kind of like family as well, so the transition is not that much harder. When I’m out there playing, I’m playing just as much for my teammates as I am my mother and dad, my daughter and my future wife, so it’s more about family.”

But his growth goes beyond his accomplishments in the locker room. The 2013 season was a breakout year for Olaniyan as he was fourth in the Big Ten with three forced fumbles, along with five sacks, and he was second on the team with 11.0 tackles for loss.

Coach James Franklin said he recognizes how Olaniyan’s family has impacted him on the field.

“He’s a mature guy, steady guy, and he’s the same guy every single day, which is important to me,” Franklin said. “You want those guys to come out and work every single day, and C.J. is a really good example of that. I’m very, very proud of him.”

The transition certainly hasn’t been easy for Olaniyan. With his daughter and fianceliving in Michigan, he has missed a lot of the little things in life. To him, it seems like Nahla does something new each day and he said it is sad to not be there, but the saving grace of technology has allowed him to still be a part of her life every night.

Despite the distractions that may arise from having a family long-distance, Olaniyan said he has come to understand that he’s here for football and that’s his focus.

“I’ve learned from my experience, I have more knowledge about life, football, just dealing with different obstacles,” Olaniyan said. “You can’t buy experience; you just have to live through it.”