With a secondary stretched thin because of injuries, especially at cornerback, Gophers defensive coordinator Robb Smith and defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist have needed to be creative.
Part of that creativity for the past two games meant moving Adekunle Ayinde from safety to cornerback. And the move paid dividends last week, when the fifth-year senior from Blaine made a career-high nine tackles and broke up a pass in the 24-17 victory over Illinois. He’s slated to start at corner again in Saturday’s game at Iowa.
“He made some big plays, some tackles for losses and was awesome in coverage for us,” Smith said. “He’s going to be challenged, and he knows he’s going to be challenged. He’s working hard, he’s prepared for that, and he’s got an unbelievable attitude.”
Such versatility is serving Ayinde and the Gophers well. He’s getting to play more, and the team is benefiting from a veteran’s presence.
Ayinde started the season opener at safety against Buffalo when Duke McGhee had to sit out the first half of the game because of targeting penalty in the Holiday Bowl. When McGhee was suspended for the Maryland and Purdue games for disciplinary reasons, Ayinde started at safety. Then came injuries to cornerbacks Kiondre Thomas and Antonio Shenault, prompting Ayinde’s move to corner.
“I’m just willing to do whatever for the team because I want to see us be successful,” said Ayinde, a former walk-on. “There’s a lot of seniors I’ve been here with for five years, some for four, and seeing those guys finish this out right is a big deal for me. Whatever I can do — corner, safety, special teams — I’ll do it for the team.”
Against Illinois, Ayinde made a big impact early in the second half, making three consecutive tackles, including one for a 5-yard loss, as the Illini went three-and-out. The Gophers then marched down the field to take a 10-7 lead.
“We have no other choice, we have to put him all over the place,” coach P.J. Fleck said. “He’s playing at a very high level. One thing I’ll say about Kunle is he cares. I mean, he cares.”
Ayinde, a kinesiology major, sees a post-college career in sports performance. “The big dream is owning a bunch of sports facilities and helping people achieve their goals through sports performance and training,” he said.
But first, there’s Saturday’s game against Iowa and one last opportunity to help win back the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
“It means a lot just being able to play for a trophy, being able to bring it back here,” he said. “Just that feeling when you get that trophy is unexplainable.’’