Once in a while, there comes along a story that breaks our hearts. For Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon, the story is Tobi Oyedeji.
The 6-foot-9 power forward from Bellaire, Texas left a post-prom celebration at Dave & Buster’s early Sunday morning to drop a friend off. He then called his father Mike and said he was on his way home.
Oyedeji never made it home.
The high school star had committed to Texas A&M after a long recruitment process by Turgeon and was the first player Turgeon recruited as the new Aggies coach three years ago.
“This has been a three-year relationship, we were really close,” Turgeon said. “From the first day he came to our camp, I knew he was coming to Texas A&M. He was going to be an engineer. This was the perfect place for him.”
Finding top basketball players who care about academics is not an easy thing. Oyedeji was one of the rare commodities. He played in the High School Academic All-American game in Azusa, California earlier this month, earning Player of the Game honors for the American team.
To even qualify for the game, players had to have a minimum GPA of 3.0, high standardized test scores, and a strong extracurricular activities resume.
Oyedeji was rated the No. 85 prospect by Rivals, No. 93 by Scout, and No. 83 by ESPNU. Expected to graduate from Bellaire High School on May 30, the A&M coaches were anticipating his arrival on campus the day after.
Now, Oyedeji will never step foot on a college campus or basketball court again. Around 6:15am, he lost control of his Toyota Avalon, crossed the median, and hit another car before colliding with a Jeep SUV head-on.
The 52-year-old driver of the Jeep, Gertha Augustin, was dead at the scene. Oyedeji died later that afternoon in surgery at the hospital. He would have turned 18 in five days.
“The world has lost a great kid today,” Turgeon said. “Tobi epitomized the term student-athlete. He was a very good student. He worked hard in the classrooms and on the basketball court and he was a terrific basketball player.”
What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the media-crazed, high-profile world of sports is the fact that we are dealing with real human lives that are just as fragile as yours or mine.
These things are never planned, and they happen so suddenly and strike so swiftly. For Turgeon, the death of Oyedeji will always be his most tragic story. “I loved that kid. This is really, really hard,” he said.
For me, it was the Richard Collier shooting. Collier is the former Jacksonville Jaguars tackle who got shot 14 times by Tyrone Hartsfield, who was convicted of attempted first-degree murder. Collier is now paralyzed from the waist down with an amputated leg.
When I first heard about Collier’s situation, I broke down in tears. He had worked so hard to become an NFL player, but his dreams shattered in a single instant.
Instead of attending college due to academic issues, Collier stayed home in Shreveport, Louisiana and worked at Wal-Mart for two years before enrolling at Tyler Junior College in Texas.
After working hard to become a starter while maintaining his grades, he transferred to Valdosta State in 2004 en route to a Division II national championship that year and All-America honors in 2005.
However, the Jaguars were the only team interested in the undrafted free agent, and Collier eventually beat out a number of players for a spot on the 53-man roster.
He was lucky to even survive the slew of bullets, but now his life is relegated to a wheelchair. How Collier has the inner strength to continue living and pushing himself through each day is truly remarkable.
I think it’s much more difficult for a professional athlete who used his body to make a living to accept life in a wheelchair than it would be for a random person off the street. The fall is so much harder for an NFL player who made millions but knows he will never play again, much less walk.
Months after the shooting, Collier said, “Everything happens for a reason. I don’t know my purpose in life yet, but I just know that this didn’t happen for no reason.”
Perhaps the lesson that Collier grasped was that there is more to life than football, which has enabled him to attain greater fulfillment and to continue living.
Which leads us to Oyedeji, who will never have a chance to find his greater purpose in life. The basketball player was an aspiring engineer who hadn’t even become a legal adult yet. Sometimes, life is so unfair.
Whether or not Oyedeji died for a reason is beyond our capacity to understand. In the wake of his death, we are left with only extreme sorrow and a million questions that will never be answered.
So take a moment to honor his memory by reflecting on your own life. Be thankful that you’re alive and breathing because we often get so caught up in the sometimes meaningless drivel that is part of life that we forget to truly live and breathe.
Breathe. Live. And don’t forget to enjoy life. For Tobi Oyedeji.