Henry Adeoluwa Adewamika and teammates jog onto the practice field at Tolman High, their heads hidden by black helmets. If you look closely at the sea of red and black heading towards the field, one player sticks out ever so slightly. Adewamika, a burly junior lineman, walks with a slight limp.
The rumors circulating around the injury are numerous including one in which he leaped out of his burning house that was set fire to by enemies.
Not the case, Adewamika laughs. He had been boiling water on the stove to make noodles and fell asleep. When he woke up the house was engulfed in flames.
“I had had two options, to go through the fire or to jump out of the building,” said the 15 year-old Adewamika, who was only seven at the time.
He badly injured his leg. He is pretty certain his leg was broken, but where he grew up in Nigeria he wasn’t able to receive proper treatment. His leg didn’t heal properly and he was left with a slight limp.
He shrugs it off, says it doesn’t affect him at all. In fact , he doesn’t think twice about the disability.
“He works very hard. He walks from Blackstone Valley (Prep Academy) to our practice field every day and is never late. He doesn’t let his leg stop him at all,” said Tolman Head Coach Jason Delawrence. “He is an outstanding student and a great kid to have on our team.”
“He never let his disability stop him. He takes advantage of every opportunity.”
Adewamika has lived in America just shy of five years.
The transition was more painful than his broken leg.
“My father left for America when I was very young. He went to get settled and provide for us. It was very difficult to take a small child to America on his own. That’s why I didn’t come to America sooner,” said
Adewamika. “So growing up, it was just me and my mom.”
When Adewamika was 11, his dad returned to Nigeria and finally brought his son back with him to America. His mom, however, remained in Nigeria.
“It was hard…very emotional when I left my mom to come to America. It was always just me, my mom and my neighborhood. She was very strict…she was both my mom and my father figure,” said Adewamika.
Both parents were very strict, especially when it came to education. His mother is a teacher and his father is an assistant director at Miriam Hospital. Adewamika excelled in school in Nigeria and has continued to excel academically here in the United States.
He readily shares, however, his entry into the American culture was not fluid. He struggled.
“I gained a lot of weight when I came to America. I twas eating new food, McDonald’s, buffets. I kept eating. I was a short, fat stubby kid who had just come from Africa. Everyone picked on me,” said Adewamikam, who had ballooned up to 275 pounds. “I needed to do something physical to take the weight off.”
Since Blackstone Valley didn’t have sports, he was able to join the football team at Tolman. The sport was brand new to him.
What he found was a community – similar to the bond he once shared with the friends and neighbors he left behind in Nigeria. Joining the football team proved to be a tremendous asset to adjusting to life in America.
“Football was new to him, but he worked hard and he wanted to learn,” said Delawrence. “But he never let his disability stop him. He has a great work ethic and takes advantage of every opportunity. He is very, very smart. “
“At first I just joined the team for fun. I didn’t really take it seriously. I didn’t know much about football and was fearful of my leg. I didn’t know my full potential,” he said. “But I wrestled, lost a lot of weight and did well. My fear of hurting my leg lessened and I began to gain confidence. I didn’t see my leg as a disadvantage. I believed in myself.”
He began to focus on football and take it much more seriously over the summer and trained with Emerson Foster, the former lineman from Pilgrim high who landed a scholarship to Syracuse University. Under Foster’s guidance, Adewamika gained muscle and confidence.
“He definitely struggled in the beginning but has a great work ethic and kept coming back. The Henry that first came to me at the start of our training was not the same one who was at the end. My workouts are not easy, but Henry never quit. He worked very hard and has greatly improved ,” said Foster. “I told him anything was possible. Just keep working.”
Tolman’s team struggled in Division I last year. The Tigers never won a game and finished the year at 0-14. This year, they dropped down to Division III.
“I am very excited about this season,” said Adewamika. “We need to build ourselves back up. We can do that (in Division III).”
He joined the football team in an effort to lose weight. What he found was a new community.
“I love football. It teaches dedication, teamwork and collaboration,” said the 6’1″, 250 pound lineman. The coaches really pushed me to see that my leg was not a disadvantage. They pushed me to see that I can be better than everyone else thinks I am. That really helped me. I really like the brotherhood between the lineman. It’s a family. We always have each other’s back,” he said. “The thing I missed the most about Nigeria is the community,, but football has given me that. This team has become my family, especially the linemen. The defensive linemen and the offensive linemen are my brothers. These are the people that ride for me.”
This fall, he will look up in the stands and see a familiar face. His mom moved to America four months ago.
“She doesn’t like watching me play football. It’s scary for her. Like most moms, she is afraid I am going to get hurt. But I love having her in America with me.
He has plans after he graduates from high school in 2020. Big plans.
“When I was 9 or 10 my mom and I watched Gray’s Anatomy on the TV. I used to say one day maybe I can be Dr. Derek (Shepherd) and be a neurosurgeon,” he said.
An exceptional student, he hopes to study pre-med at Brown University and eventually become a neurosurgeon.
“I hope I can go back (to Nigeria) and give back to the community there and tell them what America is really like,” he said.
He pauses for a minute and laughs.
“I’d tell them you can’t find money on the floor. You actually have to work for it. It doesn’t grow on trees. Believe it or not, that’s what they think. But I can tell them first hand it’s not the case.”
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