TCU lineman follows wandering path to NFL Draft

Tayo Fabuluje went back and forth between BYU and TCU before becoming Trevone Boykin’s blindside protector.
Tayo Fabuluje went back and forth between BYU and TCU before becoming Trevone Boykin’s blindside protector. AP

Tayo Fabuluje wants to tell his own story and put to rest any misconceptions people might have of him after what he calls a “roller-coaster” college career.

He transferred multiple times between BYU and TCU. He switched from the defensive line to the offensive line. He went through a period where he quit the game and ballooned to almost 400 pounds. He had to deal with family and life situations that would be difficult for anyone, let alone a college kid.

The 6-foot-7, 360-pound Fabuluje persevered through it all, though, and says he’s better for it. He hopes it eventually becomes the foundation of a successful NFL career, a dream that he is getting closer and closer to achieving as a mid- to late-round offensive line prospect.

“Man, it’s just amazing how this experience has made me stronger,” Fabuluje said recently at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. “I feel like I can handle anything now if I can handle that. It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s definitely been a learning experience at the same time. So I appreciate it. I respect the journey. But a lot of people don’t know the back story.”

Fabuluje is one of five TCU players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, to be held Feb. 17-23 in Indianapolis. The others are tailback B.J. Catalon, linebacker Paul Dawson, safety Chris Hackett and cornerback Kevin White.

Fabuluje also plans to participate in TCU’s Pro Day on March 27. The NFL Draft is April 30-May 2 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago.

First stop: BYU

Fabuluje, who was born in Lagos, Nigeria, had a standout high school career, spending his first three years at Euless Trinity and his final season at Arlington Oakridge.

With a projectable size and body, dozens of colleges showed interest in him, and he opted for BYU.

“I remember he came here and he was just a gentle giant,” BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi said. “He fell in love with the environment and you knew he could play D-line and, at the same time, O-line.”

Fabuluje spent what became a redshirt freshman season on the defensive line. But, as Fabuluje soon found out, the academics and lifestyle at BYU are significantly different than most major universities because of its strict honor code.

“There is a lot to learn,” Kaufusi said. “Going to bed early, being at weightlifting at 6 a.m., spending time with tutors. ... It’s a tough regimen.”

But Fabuluje grew close to Kaufusi, whom he still considers a mentor, and made friends in that first year. Ultimately, though, he decided to transfer closer to home and went to TCU.

Second stop: TCU

After sitting out the 2011 season because of transfer rules, Fabuluje experienced his first collegiate success in 2012.

He had moved over to the offensive line and climbed the depth charts. He started 12 of 13 games for the Frogs, including 10 at left tackle.

“I was quite envious of his talents when he first got to TCU and tried to play defense,” said Eddie Williamson, TCU’s offensive line coach from 2001-13. “Eventually it worked out that he moved over to the O-line and we started working with him. He had a load of talent, plus he’s a big man, two things that made him a pretty good offensive lineman.”

TCU had success running behind Fabuluje and the offensive line, gaining 1,977 rushing yards with 13 rushing touchdowns in a 7-6 season that ended with a loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Fabuluje was named All-Big 12 honorable mention, offensive newcomer of the year and appeared to have found his niche.

But things took a turn for the worse after the promising 2012 season.

Fabuluje’s mother, Debra, was caught up with legal issues and being prosecuted for felony theft, according to court records. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in jail.

That put added responsibility on Fabuluje, who did the best he could to support his mother during the legal process as well as his sister. His sister didn’t have a job at the time, so she moved in with him and they tried to get by on his college stipend.

“As any college player can tell you, the college stipend is not much to live off yourself, let alone two people,” Fabuluje said.

So he picked up an extra job, which came at the expense of off-season conditioning work.

But, as Fabuluje said, “That was the responsibility I had to take. No matter what circumstances, I couldn’t let my family struggle.”

The time spent away from the team, though, hurt Fabuluje’s football life. He put on a significant amount of weight, and he and Williamson determined he wasn’t fit to play football in 2013.

“Playing left tackle is a large responsibility,” Fabuluje said. “If I don’t do my job, somebody can get hurt. It’s a serious deal and I take it very seriously, so I ended up sitting out.”

Said Williamson: “You hate to see a young man miss an opportunity by giving up a year of playing. It’s a constant learning process and every year is important. That’s an extra year he doesn’t have.”

Third stop: BYU

With his football career on hold, Fabuluje needed help and found it by returning to Utah. He knew a family from Texas that had relocated to Utah, and he could stay there for free.

Plus, the tuition for BYU was significantly less than TCU for someone like Fabuluje paying out of pocket. That, not football, Fabuluje contends, is why he returned to BYU.

“Everyone made the assumption that I was going back to play football, but it was my living situation,” Fabuluje said. “I had a place to live, I was working three jobs that semester to help pay for school and I had to take classes to remain eligible to even get a chance to play in 2014.”

It was a busy semester for Fabuluje, taking a full course load plus his side jobs. He worked as a security guard/greeter at a high-end luxury store, at a sports retail shop and sold cellphones.

There were many times that semester Fabuluje wondered, ‘What am I doing here?’

“But I knew what I was doing,” he said. “It’s something I had to do for my future.”

Fourth stop: TCU

With his personal life back in order for the most part and a renewed passion for football, Fabuluje went back to TCU in the spring of 2014.

He met with coach Gary Patterson and recently promoted offensive line coach Jarrett Anderson, who took over for the retired Williamson.

“I told them I was all-in and I wanted to do everything I could to get back with the team and finish what I had started at TCU,” Fabuluje said.

Patterson and the rest of the coaches granted Fabuluje his wish, and he went to work. He reported to spring practice pushing 390 pounds, but began shedding weight.

He reclaimed his starting spot and opened the season against Samford, weighing 376 pounds. By the time TCU played Baylor in early October, he had dropped into the 350s.

Equally important, Fabuluje started showing promise once again, anchoring the offensive line of the second-highest scoring team in college football (46.5 points per game). TCU gained 6,929 yards of total offense, including more than 2,600 on the ground.

Fabuluje’s resurgence certainly factored into that, and it culminated with a Peach Bowl victory over Ole Miss in December.

“An amazing, amazing season,” said Fabuluje, who also earned his psychology degree in December.

“I wanted to do everything I could after missing the 2013 season and I was glad to just be back.”

Asked whether he ever thought how much more special the season could have been with TCU in the inaugural College Football Playoff, Fabuluje smiled and said: “TCU ... national champions of the 2014 season. No question about it. No question.”

Next stop: NFL?

Physically, Fabuluje seems to have everything an NFL team would want in an offensive line prospect. He has long arms, a wide body and great feet.

But questions remain about whether he’ll be able to get down to an optimal playing weight, and the multiple transfers surely will raise red flags. However, there’s no question Fabuluje should intrigue some teams and he will get a shot at the next level.

That’s why he was among the invitees to the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl in January and next week’s combine.

“He is one of the more intriguing tackles in this senior class,” CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler said. “He has a NFL frame with a wide base to cover a large area in his kick slide and eat up edge rushers.

“But he has some sloppy weight and his conditioning is a question mark — can he get in the 340-range and stay there? He also needs to refine his arm/hand technique ... but he moves well for the size and has traits worth developing as a mid- to late-rounder.”

Fabuluje is well aware of what he must do to improve his draft stock. He wanted to showcase his skills during the Senior Bowl, but he had his week cut short by a hip injury.

Now it’s on to the NFL Scouting Combine, where Fabuluje hopes to continue to impress and weigh in the 325-335 range.

“I’m going to have to lose weight and it’s something I’m intent on doing,” said Fabuluje, who is working out in San Diego.

“It’s just a matter of when because I’m going to do it.”

It’s another way Fabuluje can show football is truly his No. 1 priority. It would certainly go a long way toward proving his multiple college stops and year off are things of the past.

“I know a lot of people question it because of the transfers or whatever, but it absolutely killed me to be away from the game of football that year,” Fabuluje said. “You know, there’s a great quote — the two best days of your life is the day you were born and the day you figure out why.

“And I truly believe this is why I was born — I was born to play football.”

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

Next-level Frogs

As TCU coach, Gary Patterson has had 33 players drafted and a total of 72 attend NFL camps. A look at TCU’s top NFL prospects this year:

CB Kevin White: Led the team with 11 pass breakups and 13 passes defended.

LB Paul Dawson: Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year who led team in tackles.

OT Tayo Fabuluje: Played in East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl all-star games.

DT Chucky Hunter: Disruptive lineman who was a second-team All-Big 12 pick.

S Sam Carter: Tall (6-foot-1) playmaker who had four interceptions in 2014.

S Chris Hackett: First-team All-Big 12 performer had seven interceptions in 2014.

RB B.J. Catalon: Had 10 rushing touchdowns and is a good return specialist.

LB Jonathan Anderson: No gaudy stats, but his size and skill are worth a look.

NFL Scouting Combine

Feb. 17-23, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

2015 NFL Draft

April 30-May 2, Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, Chicago

Round 1: April 20; Rounds 2-3: May 1; Rounds 4-7, May 2

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