By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE– On the University of Virginia football roster, he’s listed as Victor Oluwatimi. His given name, though, is Olusegun, which in Yoruba, a language spoken in West Africa, means “God is victorious.”
“That’s where I got Victor from,” said Oluwatimi, whose parents grew up in Nigeria before moving to the United States.
Some people call him Vic, but most call him Olu. By any name, the 6-3, 300-pound Oluwatimi figures to play a significant role on the Cavaliers’ offensive line this year.
“He’s been a really nice surprise by ability and by mindset,” UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
A graduate of DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., where his teammates in 2015 included Brenton Nelson, now a starting safety at Virginia, Oluwatimi enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2017. He redshirted that fall, and at the end of the 2017-18 school year he decided Air Force was not the right place for him.
“I just felt that it was in my best interest to leave,” Oluwatimi said.
He knew about UVA’s academic reputation and was interested in its football program. So Oluwatimi contacted Nelson and asked about the culture Mendenhall had built in Charlottesaville.
“I wanted to come into a good family,” Oluwatimi said. “I didn’t want to have to keep jumping all over the place.
“Brenton told me the culture is good and we work harder than almost any team in the country. He said the coaching staff, they’re really about family, they don’t wrong anybody, and I was like, ‘That’s what I’m looking for.’ ”
Once Air Force granted his release, Oluwatimi spoke to UVA defensive coordinator Nick Howell, who recruits the D.C. area, and to Garett Tujague, who oversees the offensive line. The Cavaliers’ coaches remembered Oluwatimi from his days at DeMatha.
“We thought he was a heck of a player,” Tujague said, “but we just didn’t have a spot for him as a center when he was coming out.”
The situation was different this time around. Oluwatimi transferred to UVA last summer and, on the eve of training camp, joined the football program as a walk-on. After sitting out the 2018 season, he has three seasons of eligibility left.
“Man, you want to talk about living right,” Tujague said. “Things don’t work out for him at Air Force and he comes back to us. That’s like a gift. The kid’s phenomenal. He’s extremely bright.”
Since last month, Virginia’s players have been lifting and running in director of football development and performance Shawn Griswold’s offseason program. They’ll continue until spring practice starts late next month.
Oluwatimi, who lives with offensive tackle Bobby Haskins, said he’s hoping to gain 10 pounds and improve his speed before the start of the season.
“In the weight room my numbers are good,” Oluwatimi said. “Obviously, you’ve got to keep improving, but I’m really focusing on getting faster.”
In 2018, when the Wahoos won eight games for the first time since 2011, Dillon Reinkensmeyer started 12 games at center. Reinkensmeyer also has experience at tackle, however, and he may end up back there if Oluwatimi continues to impress at center.
“We’re excited,” Tujague said. “He’s got some things to prove, but he went against really good guys last year as a Mad Hatter, so we feel good.”
At UVA, the Mad Hatters are the players who make up the scout teams, and Oluwatimi joined their ranks last year. Overseeing the Hatters’ offense was graduate assistant Matt Johns, a former Virginia quarterback.
“He put his head down every day and was eager to work,” Johns said of Oluwatimi, whose brother, Oluwaseun, is a rising senior defensive lineman at Maryland.
“Some kids are up one day and down one day, and one thing that you want in a center and a player in general is just an even-keeled, cool, calm and collected, very composed player.
“He was facing a top-25 defense every single day in practice, and he was really good with that. Once you kind of understand how certain players work, you can give them the freedom to be more creative. Some guys you need to be really hard on, and they need to be told exactly what to do, every single time.”
“Vic was a guy that you could say, ‘This is what I need from you, but if you see something else, you can kind of be creative and mix some things up and do what you’re comfortable doing, in terms of changing protections or coaching other guys up,’ ” Johns said.
“He was really smart. He’d get on other guys about getting to the next block or the technique they needed to use on a certain play. And so things like that make my job a lot easier, because I’d never coached O-line.”
When he arrived at UVA, Oluwatimi recalled, his “goal was to do whatever the coaches asked of me. Not being able to play [last] season, I didn’t have any expectations to get reps during camp.”
During one of the Cavaliers’ first practices in August, however, Tujague put Oluwatimi at center on the second-team line.
“It just showed that he had confidence in me,” Oluwatimi said. “He threw me in, and I did pretty well.”
That was the case throughout the regular season, too, and during UVA’s preparation for the Belk Bowl.
“If a kid’s not a center or hasn’t snapped, one of the hardest things to do is train a center,” Tujague said, “because there’s communication that needs to go on, then there’s executing the snap, and it’s kind of like a controlled fury, if you will. But in the eight, nine practices we had before our bowl game, it was like a breath of fresh air. Things were so easy to him.
“A lot of times some guys can overthink it, and he’s very confident with his communications. If he continues to develop, he could have a huge impact this year.”
Born and raised in Maryland – his hometown is Upper Marlboro – Oluwatimi is the youngest of five children whose parents have always stressed the importance of education.
His sister is a teacher in Maryland. One of Oluwatimi’s brothers has a Ph.D., and another is a travel nurse. Oluwaseun is an engineering major at Maryland, where he earned a football scholarship last summer.
Oluwatimi, who plans to major in economics, hopes to be similarly rewarded at UVA, where he can look to Nelson for inspiration.
Nelson arrived at Virginia as a recruited walk-on in the summer of 2016. A year later, Mendenhall awarded him a scholarship.
“Vic knows the path,” said Nelson, who’s recovering from ankle surgery and will miss spring practice.
Oluwatimi said: “If you do what you gotta do, then Coach Mendenhall will take care of you. I know I have a tough ladder to climb here, but I believe eventually I’ll be able to fight my way to get reps and do the things I need to do.”
An opportunity to earn immediate playing time awaits him. From a team that finished 8-5 after defeating South Carolina 28-0 in the Belk Bowl, the offensive line lost two full-time starters (Marcus Applefield and Jake Fieler) and one part-time starter (R.J. Proctor).
“I just gotta handle my business and compete like hell,” Oluwatimi said. “I’m confident that if I do those things, then I’ll end up where I want to be in the fall.”
Returning players on the offensive line include Reinkensmeyer, Haskins, Ryan Nelson, Chris Glaser, Gerrik Vollmer and Ryan Swoboda, and several newcomers figure to crack the two-deep.
“I love the direction of my room right now, big time,” Tujague said, and Oluwatimi is among the reasons for that.
“My coach used to tell me all the time, ‘Everybody brings joy into a room: some when they arrive and others when they leave,’ ” Tujague said, laughing. “Olu definitely brings joy into the room when he arrives.”