Oct. 22, 2005
By Tim Collins
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Those who follow Crusader football have known about a special player since he set foot on campus in the fall of 2002. Gideon Akande left his hometown of Chicago, arrived on the Patriot League scene and hit the ground running.
When all was said and done, Akande put together one of the most prolific freshman seasons ever at Holy Cross. Rushing for 853 yards on 177 attempts, he averaged just less than five yards per carry. Also, he topped it off by pacing the team with five touchdowns. He was the first freshman to ever top 120 yards twice in a season, highlighted by a 130-yard performance against Yale.
After his freshman season, Akande steadily began to grow into the role of a leader. Though the rest of his collegiate football career never took off strictly in terms of rushing numbers, his contributions on and off the field have spoken volumes. As a senior he has taken on the role of the do-it-all fullback as well as one of the Crusaders' captains.
"Gideon is a leader by example. He goes out every day on the field, in the weight room and in everything he does and just works extremely hard," said head coach Tom Gilmore. "He doesn't have to say a whole lot because of that. He does a great job setting the example."
All the while setting a workman-like example for his teammates, Akande has also been evolving his game by finding different ways to contribute to the Holy Cross offensive unit. Accepting his new role as the backup tailback and now the starting fullback, Akande put his team before himself.
"Any true competitor would agree that they would want to be the `go-to' person for their team. However, I realized that it takes a team to win games, and every person on that team must know and accept their role in order to be successful," said Akande. "Steve Silva is a great player and to compliment him, our running game, and the team, I was willing to accept the role assigned to me and perform to the best of my God-given abilities. So far this year, it seems to be working out beautifully."
By turning himself into a one of the most versatile players in the Patriot League, Akande has created problems for opposing teams alongside Silva. It is almost as if every year he told himself he was going to contribute in some fresh new way to help the team. He did this by adding a distinct dimension to his game every time he suited up in the purple and white. Added Gilmore, "Gideon is a very good football player and he has obviously made a successful switch to fullback this year. Gideon is a great running back, has shown he can be a great blocker and he has also been very effective catching the ball coming out of the backfield."
During his sophomore year, he ranked second on the team with 380 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. Tapping into his reserve of talent he also began to show his receiving skills. Akande caught 22 passes for a total of 246 yards and two touchdowns.
Adding yet another element to his game, Akande started returning kickoffs last year as a junior. Taking back 20 kicks with an average of 23.6 years per return, he continued to add value and depth to the dangerous Crusader offense and special teams. Accumulating 882 all-purpose yards -- on the ground, catching passes and returning kicks -- he ranked 10th in the Patriot League as a junior. Never letting himself settle for being a one-dimension player he has turned himself into one of the biggest offensive threats in the league. After rushing 83 times, returning 20 kicks, and catching 17 passes last year, Akande has shown an ability to help craft the multifaceted Crusader offense which remains a tough scouting report to prepare for.
Coach Gilmore stated what Akande's presence on the field means to the Crusaders. "He does a lot. He's a great kick returner for us as well. He has really made that switch to fullback and really changed our running game a lot because now we have another serious threat in the backfield as well as the tailback. That forces teams to defend us a little bit differently knowing that we can give dives off to Gideon and also being able to slide him out in the flat for play action."
To sum up Akande's time at Holy Cross, one could say that he is simply making the most of it. Not just in terms of football but by building a foundation for his future. Both of his parents, Connell and Anthonia, were born and raised in Nigeria, which is located in West Africa. A first generation Nigerian-American, he understands the opportunity he has had over the past four years. "I had a very different perspective on the world, which I believe worked to my advantage," said Akande. "Being able to connect to people that come from a third-world environment, I am more eager to take advantage of the opportunities placed before me, especially when it comes to academics. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to attend Holy Cross." Akande's plans to pursue a career in law or government were affirmed by his experiences working at a law firm in New York City this past summer. The graduating political science major will prepare to attend law school, but first will take a year off to explore as many opportunities as he can.
Coming out of high school with opportunities to walk-on at a few Big Ten schools, Akande made the decision to come to Massachusetts because he wanted to "have the opportunity to make a big impact for the team I play for, and have a degree with some weight to it. Holy Cross afforded me the opportunity to play in the competitive Patriot League and to secure a future for myself post-graduation."
Leaving Chicago was a difficult decision for Akande especially because of the trustworthy support group he grew up with. He regularly keeps in touch with his Lane Technical High School coach, Rich Rio and many of his teammates, friends and family back home. "A big challenge for me was being away from home for such a long period of time," added Akande, who misses a lot of holidays at home and has spent summers furthering his future through internships. "The adjustment was difficult at first but the benefits of experiencing the east coast were well worth it."
Through the years Akande's parents have been "his biggest fans and his strongest influence" and even though his mother, Anthonia, has a tough time watching him play such a physical sport, she and his father, Connell, will always be Gideon's biggest supporters. "The concept of 11 guys coming to hit her baby still doesn't set well with her. I play for my parents and for all the people back in Chicago who helped me get this far. My main goal has been to make them proud," said Akande.
"My parents, using their life stories, have taught me to take advantage of anything placed before me. Knowing that my career at Holy Cross would only last four years, I started early as to not waste a waking moment here and regret it later," added Akande.
Undoubtedly leaving his mark at Holy Cross, Gideon Akande's accomplishments have left nothing to regret. He has made two parents and many other friends incredibly proud.