Fresh off his Pro Day at UCLA Tuesday, four-year running back Bolu Olorunfunmi now must play the waiting game. He was not one of those invited to the Combine. He had much of his future riding on his times and performance in front of a dozen NFL scouts at UCLA. Then comes the hope of personal workouts for teams. “I feel like now I have done that. I have done the hardest thing I had to go do for those guys (the scouts). Now they have to go look at my body of work for them to call me and say we want to get a closer look at you.”
In an exclusive interview with Last Word on College Football, Olorunfunmi said he learned a lot from his time in Westwood. He thinks it will better prepare him for a potential shot at the next level. He was shut down last season with two concussions. He then made the subsequent decision to bypass a fifth year of eligibility and dedicate himself to getting ready for various NFL showcases.
He says he is symptom-free from any of the concussions and physically in the best shape he has been in. His outlook is an unmistakable mix of confidence and sincere understanding of the realities that lie ahead. There is no outward cockiness, so much as a self-certainty that if NFL personnel pick his brain about his on-field football acumen, and see his entire body of work, they will find a place for him at the next level.
He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the Pro Day and had a 32” vertical leap, (he had a 35” leap disqualified when he wrong footed it). He says it was not his best time ever, but he is hoping the scouts see the whole package. “I mean overall, I thought it was a good experience. Catching balls and running routes, I felt smooth. It has been a while since I have been on the field doing that. Overall, I judge myself really hard, but it was a good day. I think it was good production.”
By any measure, it has been an up and down journey for Olorunfunmi. He was a three-star recruit out of Clovis, CA with offers from the likes of Stanford, Notre Dame, and Utah. The big city life of UCLA was a draw for him. “Being in LA, you have so many countless opportunities with people you meet and the relationships you can build.” There was also a pull from then-running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, whom Olorunfunmi stays in touch with to this day.
One of the more maddening things to the UCLA faithful during those same four years, was the Bruins’ wild inconsistency. The team had four offensive coordinators, (Noel Mazzone, Polamalu, Jedd Fisch, and Chip Kelly as his own offensive coordinator), and two head coaches, (Jim Mora, and Kelly) in his four years in Westwood. Instead of getting caught up in the constant changes, Olorunfunmi says he tried to take it all as a learning experience. “I never thought, ‘Dang, I’m on my third offensive coordinator.’ To me it was like, what offense are we running? I want to see and I want to study. I want to try to get better.”
He is hoping there is a chance the pro scouts will look at the constant changes the team went through and see it is a positive for his future as well. “I have learned so much just from being in so many offenses and learning the terminology and the different schemes. I have learned a lot and that is what I take away from my four years of being in those offenses.”
One of the few steps of consistency came in the latter half of Olorunfunmi’s UCLA career. He got two years of work with running backs coach Deshaun Foster. The former Bruin running back shared his NFL wisdom (six years combined with the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers). Olorunfumi says that was a factor in getting ready for the next level. “It was definitely awesome to have him in that perspective. He knows a lot about the league, and he was teaching us what to prepare for. It was definitely a great building block for me, in all that coaching change.”
The UCLA backfield was usually crowded during Olorunfunmi’s tenure. He and Soso Jamabo were in the same incoming class in 2015. And they had to get in line behind veteran Paul Perkins for carries. It was Jamabo and Olorunfunmi together as sophomores with Nate Starks also getting in plenty of work in 2016. Last season saw a glut of running backs on the roster, plus he had the injuries.
In 2017, his third year, the production was evident. He had career highs in carries (117); yards, (565); yards per carry (4.8); and touchdowns (5). It turns out he knows very little about his stats. He did not know he also had 118 receiving yards that season. He says he only knew he proved he was a viable option as a receiver out of the backfield. He added that it was something he has continued to work hard on in his post-UCLA training. He hopes that scouts will see him as more complete.
He acknowledges the numbers throughout his four years are not going to be enough to get him looks at the next level. So, what would “NFL General Manager Olorunfunmi” look for out of UCLA running back Olorunfunmi that would convince him to take a chance? “Look at the plays that aren’t highlights. Look at the plays where he doesn’t get the ball. What kind of player is he truly? What does he do to contribute? If he didn’t have big production, what was he when he didn’t get the ball.”
NFL scouts have to dig a little deeper when it comes to players who were not front and center on network television every week. They have to search when you are not the focal point of Saturday night highlight shows. When your team is 12-16 over a two year period half your games get relegated to time slots when only 1/3 of the country sees them. Or they are on the conference network where even fewer people see them. You have to hope scouts will watch every bit of film whether it be from practices or games, or seven-on-seven backyard scrimmages. Whatever it takes, must be the mindset at this point.
“I get tired like anyone. I’m not going to lie. But I go as hard as my body will let me on every play. In Spring ball (in 2018), I caught 75 balls (in addition to all the carries). I didn’t know I had done that. I just set my mind to go play football.”
In the depths of serious conversation about getting to the pros, it does not take much to get a light-hearted laugh out of Olorunfunmi. Just mention the UCLA-Oregon game in 2017. You don’t need to say anymore. He knows where you are going with this. Afterall, that was on everyone’s highlight show that day.
Bolu Olorunfunmi just pole vaulted to a TD pic.twitter.com/68ApuHbmO4
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 21, 2017
“When he (Oregon safety Mattrell McGraw), kind of pushed me up a little bit, I was kind of like ‘Whoa, I’m up pretty high right now.’ I felt like my adrenaline was at an all-time high. When I did it earlier in the season against Hawaii, I wasn’t up as high but that one hurt way worse.”
The hard part now is the waiting. Olorunfunmi acknowledges that he has done all the prep work for the on-field shows. It’s a lot of pressure knowing how much of your future could be riding on a couple of times in the 40 or your one shot at bench press reps. Now he waits for calls from teams wanting personal interviews and workouts.
And it’s entirely possible, if not even likely, that four days of the draft go by and his name does not get called. Then you are waiting again. This time it is for the phone calls inviting you to free agent camps. “I know there is a thing called reality. I am not kidding myself about it because either way, my thing is I just need to get my foot in the door. And either way, I am going to have to play football to get on a team.”
For now, as with many players on the edges of making the leap to the next level, it is a numbers game. And waiting for the phone to ring.