Stampeders rookie Tunde Adeleke feels he’s capable of playing in Grey Cup

Tunde Adeleke gave himself a clean bill of health Thursday.

Now all the rookie defensive back has to do is convince head coach Dave Dickenson he can play Sunday when the Calgary Stampeders face the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup game at TD Place.

“I’ve been practising all week, I feel good,” Adeleke said. “It’s all up to the coaches and how they feel about the roster.”

The five-foot-10, 190-pound Adeleke started at linebacker in Calgary’s 32-28 West Division final win over the Edmonton Eskimos. The former Carleton star drew the start in place of injured Shaq Richardson but left the contest with a knee injury of his own.

Adeleke, a native Nigerian who attended high school in Ottawa, resumed practising this week and predictably feels he’s more than capable of playing Sunday. But Dickenson will take a wait-and-see approach before making a final decision.

“I had to make that decision last week with Shaq Richardson and he said he was good to go but I can see certain things in practice,” Dickenson said. “You’ve got to be at your best, especially covering these receivers. If not, we have other options.

“Tunde has been practising and I sure hope he feels confident he can get out there and play.”

Dickenson said Adeleke, Richardson and Joe Burnett have all practised this week, giving him options in the secondary. Calgary is making a second straight Grey Cup appearance after losing last year’s game 39-33 in overtime to the Ottawa Redblacks.

Adeleke has become a jack of all trades this season. Calgary selected him in the third round, 25th overall, in this year’s CFL draft primarily as a kick returner. But Adeleke started three games at safety as well as at linebacker, registering 15 tackles and a sack as well as 13 special-teams tackles.

Adeleke returned 26 punts for 356 yards (13.7-yard average) with two TDs and five kickoffs for 95 yards.

“I’ve got to give credit to Huf (president/GM John Hufnagel),” Dickenson said. “We thought Tunde was a special returner but we weren’t sure what position he’d be at and Huf thought he could play free safety, maybe even in the box.

“Where we drafted him we thought we got a good player but I think he exceeded our expectations and certainly has made a big impact on our team.”

Adeleke spent four seasons (2013-16) at Carleton, playing both defensive back and kick returner. A two-time all-Canadian, Adeleke registered nine career punt-return TDs as well as 127 tackles and four interceptions with the Ravens.

He was also the fastest player at last year’s CFL combine, posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds.

“He’s astute and very smart,” Dickenson said. “I think Canadian university football has gotten better but the knowledge he had and the way he adjusted to our system certainly hadn’t happened with many rookies.”

Adeleke admits he’s even surprised himself this season.

“I never expected to have a season like this,” he said. “I haven’t been in a championship since high school. This is probably the best team I’ve been on.”

As a pro, football is now Adeleke’s full-time job. In addition to facing bigger, stronger, faster players, Adeleke said he’s also had to adjust to spending more time in the classroom.

“I spend more time on film now,” he said. “When I came in I knew I had to learn the playbook and know how to play multiple positions and be one of the smarter guys.

“In college you’re probably one of the more athletic guys but here everyone is athletic.”

The prospect of playing in a championship game in a city he grew up in can be very daunting to a rookie player. But Adeleke said the Stampeders, many of whom are preparing for a second straight Grey Cup, have helped keep him grounded.

“Before the week even started I asked them, what it was going to be like,” he said. “I’m not really surprised at anything that’s happened throughout the week.

“I’m just concentrating on football with everything that’s going on around, all the noise with Grey Cup hype. But my teammates have made it very easy for me to concentrate on just the football aspect.”

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