This time two years ago, Michael Badejo was a young pup for the Wolves. He was a sophomore starting at defensive end for a Timberview football team in one of the state’s most feared districts.
“Now I’m like the old guy here,” the senior said.
His experience and talent are among the reasons he’s now an unquestioned leader on a defensive unit that features a few pups of its own.
Badejo’s love of football started at the pee-wee level. Always a defensive lineman, he got a taste of running back in middle school. As a freshman, it didn’t take long to land on Timberview head coach James Brown’s radar.
“He was an unbelievable player as a freshman so we had some eyes on him early, knowing that he was going to develop into something even bigger and stronger and faster,” Brown said.
The coach wasted little time promoting him to the varsity level, and as a sophomore threw him into the fire as a defensive end. Badejo confesses he wanted to play running back, but a conversation with his cousin, who had also played defensive end, convinced him it was the right place for him. Turns out his cousin was correct. Badejo’s play drew plenty of attention and he was named Newcomer of the Year in the district.
It didn’t come easy, though. Badejo was hard on himself when making mistakes. Rather than getting upset at the youngster, upperclassmen on his team pushed and encouraged Badejo.
“They said, ‘Don’t be nervous at all. Just go 100 percent. You’re going to make mistakes, so just go all out.’”
Now Badejo is in position to give similar advice. After earning first team all-district honors last season as a defensive end, he moved to outside linebacker during the spring. The Wolves’ veteran linebacking corps, also featuring Craig Jim-Lawson and Nate Collins, are the backbone of a defense that has inexperience upfront and in the secondary.
“I try to tell the young guys the same things [those upperclassmen] told me,” he said.
From Brown’s perspective, he has a guy with skins on the wall that younger players can easily look up to.
“With the ability that he brings to the table athletically, he brings even more than that into the locker room,” Brown said. “He’s been a guy who has faced upper-level competition since he was a sophomore. The leadership ability he’s gained from all that experience and being a captain and the recruiting process and all those things, he’s one of the most unselfish kids we’ve got on the team, so it really allows other people to follow him.”
Badejo has verbally committed to play at SMU next season. Despite more than a dozen offers from schools including several out of state, SMU just seemed right. He says he knew the same night he met with new head coach Chad Morris that he wanted to be a Mustang.
Brown also thinks Highland Park will be a good destination for Badejo.
“The things he does in the classroom, the future that he sees for himself and what he needs to get academically moving forward in his life, SMU is a really good fit.
“He’s a great kid on and off the field. He takes care of his business in the classroom. He’s a great guy in the community and has a great family. He really understands what it takes to get better.”