NASHVILLE – When Olasunkanmi "Ola" Adeniyi made it to the NFL, his first thought wasn't to reward himself with shiny cars and jewelry.
His road to the NFL, which started on playgrounds in Nigeria, wasn't an easy one.
But Adeniyi, a linebacker who joined the Titans earlier this offseason, knew it was his mother who did the hard work.
And every day of his life, especially on Mother's Day weekend, Adeniyi can't help but think of how she changed his life by the sacrifices she made for her family. So he wants to reward her any time he gets a chance, and he's done so.
"At school, when the teacher says: Write about your hero," Adeniyi said. "Well, I am not writing about Superman. I am not writing about Batman. I am writing about my mom. My mom is my hero. To do what my mom has done for me and my brother, especially coming from a third world country, that is no easy task.
"Without her, I wouldn't have made it to where I am today. Not even close."
Adeniyi, headed into his fourth NFL season, signed with the Titans in March after playing the previous three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Pittsburgh, Adeniyi played in 32 games, with one start. He's tallied 10 tackles, 14 special teams stop and three forced fumbles during his career.
At his new home in Tennessee, Adeniyi hopes to take an even bigger step in helping the Titans. He's excited about his new opportunity.
And he's forever thankful for having a mother who helped change his life.
Born in Nigeria, Ola Adeniyi was around six years old when his mother, Esther, traveled to the United States in an effort to create a better life for her two boys. After spending time in the active military in Nigeria, she found work. She ultimately began a career in nursing, in Houston. Ola and his older brother stayed with a family member in Nigeria until their mother could create a stable home for the entire family in the U.S.
A few years later, the boys rejoined their her.
Ola, around eight years old at the time, remember his mom working long hours to provide for the boys while raising them by herself. It continued for years and years, and to this day she's still a nurse at Kindred Hospital Houston Medical Center.
"My mom," Adeniyi said, "she has always been that tough worker. She'd go to hell and back for me and my brother, just to make sure we were happy. She wanted to do everything she could to make our life better. It was hard on her I know, but she never showed it."
Esther was also a disciplinarian who wanted her sons to focus on academics, not athletics.
In fact, Adeniyi wasn't allowed to play football when he was in middle school, or in his early years in high school. It wasn't until his junior year in high school when his mother finally agreed to let him play – as long as he'd sign a contract. The contract stated he must make good grades, clean his room, and do other chores.
"One day at practice, my coach came up to me on the practice field and told me my mom called," Adeniyi recalled. "She told my coach my bed wasn't made. He said, 'You have to go home.' I was like, "Are you serious?" I took my shoulder pads off and ran home, and she was waiting for me at the house. She was going to make me quit the team.
"From that day on, I learned my lesson."
Adeniyi went on to earn a scholarship at Toledo, where he developed into an NFL talent. His older brother, Olamide, meanwhile, went to Columbia University, and he's on course to be a doctor. Ola said his mother insisted on paying all of his brother's tuition because she didn't want him to stress.
"I'm telling you," Adeniyi said, "I wouldn't have made it to the point I am in my life without her toughness on me, and her staying on me. She changed my life, and my brother's life."
Earlier this year, Adeniyi bought his mother a Range Rover SUV, along with a Louis Vuitton bag.
Back in 2019, he bought his mother a new house.
On Mother's Day weekend, Adeniyi plans to celebrate his mother.
He'll thank her again and again.
"There's not a day that goes by where my mom doesn't ask me: 'Are you OK? Do you need anything?'," Adeniyi said. "Even while I am a grown man, she still wants to make sure we're well off, and she will do whatever it takes to make sure we're happy. She tells us every day, we're her pride and joy. And that sticks with me.
"The reality is she's my pride and joy. And I'll never be able to repay her for all she has done for me."