Edefuan Ulofoshio used to sleep with a football under his arm.
Then he willed his dreams into the daylight.
But not before his family did so first.
In 1984, Steve Ulofoshio — Edefuan’s father — immigrated from a war-torn Nigeria to Alaska to build a better life. He earned an accounting degree from the University of Alaska-Anchorage while driving a taxi to pay tuition. Eventually, he launched “Consumer Care Network” — a company that provides in-home care for the elderly and people with disabilities — while establishing a successful real estate business as well.
And, after following her husband to Alaska, Joyce Ulofoshio earned a PhD in psychology — all while raising five boys and instilling an unwavering work ethic.
“We just put one foot in front of the other,” Joyce Ulofoshio said last week. “We’re immigrants. For most immigrants, the reason you come here is for a better life. So when you get that opportunity, you try to make the best of it.
“Coming somewhere where you are looking for a better opportunity, it minimizes the struggles. You have to endure the hard work. You don’t see that as struggles, because you know where you’re coming from and appreciate the opportunity to make something better for yourself and your kids.”
Speaking of, Steve and Joyce’s second-oldest son had a speech impediment.
And, to quote his kindergarten teacher, he was also afflicted with “ants in his pants.”
So, to sap his seemingly boundless energy — and perhaps provide confidence in social situations — they enrolled him in a local football league.
Which is where a future Washington Husky flourished.
“I did not know what the journey would look like, but I knew he had a lot of passion. He had a lot of dreams,” Joyce Ulofoshio said. “He went to bed with a football in his hand, so you could tell it was just everything to him.
“I remember once he went to visit one of his aunts who hugged him, and he flinched. So the aunt asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ He had gotten injured during football and he refused to tell us, and he begged the aunt not to tell us because he did not want us to stop him from playing.”
Edefuan Ulofoshio would not be stopped. At 6 years old, his favorite television show was “NFL Total Access.” He became singularly focused on football. According to his mother: “It was his dream, his life. If you look at him, that affects everything he does — his decisions. He does well on his grades because he wants to be able to play. He stays out of trouble because whatever is going to prevent him from playing football, he avoids. His passion for football directs everything he does.”
And, like both of his parents, he unflinchingly pursued his passion.
“You hear those stories (of how your parents sacrificed), and you can’t just be lazy,” Edefuan Ulofoshio said. “I always wanted to work hard in anything I did.”
Added Anchorage South High School head coach John Lewis, in an interview with The Times in 2019: “When he got in the weight room, he worked hard. It wasn’t that he was stronger than the others. It’s that he put more work into it than the others. That’s what established him coming up to varsity here as a sophomore and as a starter.”
After excelling for two seasons at South, the Ulofoshios moved to Las Vegas in 2016. Edefuan — who was known widely as “Jeffrey,” his baptism name, because it was easier for teachers and peers to pronounce — settled at prep football powerhouse Bishop Gorman High, where he compiled 100 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss as a starting linebacker in his senior season in 2017.
And yet, college recruiters didn’t come calling. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound torpedo with the gap-toothed grin was ranked as a two-star recruit by 247Sports, receiving his only scholarship offers from Robert Morris and Northern Arizona.
In 2019, 247Sports recruiting analyst Blair Angulo admitted that Ulofoshio “was overlooked, for sure. And from a recruiting standpoint, I think his measurables affected him — because every good high school team has players like this, right? Guys that plug in and are standouts alongside some of these highly recruited players, but for whatever reason they just aren’t as recruited because maybe they don’t check all of the boxes. In Eddy’s case, I just don’t know if he had the length — the physical attributes — that people look at, especially these college coaches that have three years to turn a program around.”
So Ulofoshio fell through the metaphorical cracks. He decided to walk on at Washington. And in a family that earned every inch of its American dream, he vowed to work even harder.
“I just felt like I never wanted to be in this position again,” he said. “I kind of blamed myself for having to make this decision.”
Added Joyce Ulofoshio: “When it didn’t happen, he felt like he wasn’t good enough. For me, as his mom, I kept reminding him: ‘You work hard. You’re good enough. We don’t understand it, but have faith.’”
In 2018, an anonymous freshman with a Nigerian name walked on at Washington.
He would not be outworked.
· · ·
Except, maybe, by Claudia Longo.
Like Edefuan, Longo was a freshman athlete at Washington in the winter of 2018. Like Edefuan, Longo — a midfielder on the women’s soccer team — was pursuing a pre-med path in pediatrics.
And like Edefuan, Longo cherished a challenge.
“Coming in as freshmen, it’s not like anybody straight-up told us we couldn’t do what we’re doing. But we were made aware that (as athletes) trying to be pre-med was going to be near-impossible,” said Longo, who struck up an instant friendship with Ulofoshio. “I think, more than anything, that just got him more excited and even more motivated to do it.
“He’s a kid that will outwork, outlast, outdo anybody around him. That kind of mentality he has on the field and the reason he’s one of the best linebackers in the nation is also that same mentality that he brings to the classroom — which ultimately makes him better, makes me better. It makes everyone around us better.”
But Longo had to make Ulofoshio better first. Because, when they met in a chemistry class in the winter quarter of their freshman year, Edefuan had a lot to learn.
“Not only did I have to learn time management, but I had to learn focus,” said Ulofoshio, who still had occasional ants in his pants. “I learned that you can’t just pass a pre-med class by simply going to class, doing the bare minimum of the homework. You have to actually do the practice problems and understand the concepts — the whys of the whys. I’ll be the first person to say, I was struggling at first.
“Claudia Longo basically taught me how to do that. She said, ‘We’re going to study. This is how we’re going to study in the morning. We’re going to study in the afternoon, and we’re going to study the day before the test too.’ And as much as I hated it, it helped me a lot.”
Added Longo: “Yes, I did pull him along. But at the same time, it wasn’t dragging him out of his room. He showed up every time. He was ready to learn. He wasn’t ever embarrassed to ask for help. You could just tell it was something that was new to him, but it didn’t scare him. He was willing to do whatever it took to stick with it, and obviously he has.”
More than that — his heightened study habits positively impacted other parts of his life. After redshirting his freshman football season in 2018, Ulofoshio had an epiphany.
“One day after spring ball I just said, ‘What if I do this for football?’ So that’s what I was doing,” he said. “I was coming in here more, studying the playbook, asking questions. And the game just got a little bit easier for me to play. It’s crazy how it just translates like that.”
When Ulofoshio understood the whys of the whys, suddenly, he started to win.
As a redshirt freshman, he started the final three games of the 2019 season — earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors after contributing nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in a 19-7 win at Oregon State. And in the winter of 2020, he earned the scholarship that long eluded him.
Last fall, Ulofoshio led the Huskies with 47 tackles — 20 more than his closest competitor — as well as four pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, one sack and one forced fumble in just four games. And now, the second-team All-Pac-12 performer is Pro Football Focus’ highest rated returning linebacker.
After a fall camp practice in Seattle last month, running back Cameron Davis marveled that Ulofoshio is “somehow always there.”
In the backfield. In the hole. In the football facility.
Dragging dreams into the light.
“Eddy is the first one in the building,” said UW coach Jimmy Lake. “He takes pride in letting me know when he gets to the garage and his vehicle is here before mine. He watches more tape than anybody on defense. He has earned everything, and it’s all been through hard work.”
Like his parents, Ulofoshio puts one foot in front of the other. And the hard work never stops. While he’s preparing to kick off his fourth collegiate season against Montana on Saturday night, Edefuan is also on track to graduate with a degree in public health next spring.
He’s earning everything, but it isn’t easy.
“A lot of times we’ll catch ourselves saying, ‘We’re doing it for the kids. We’re doing it for the kids,’” Longo said. “I feel like it’s something so simple, but it does remind us: yes, this is tough to manage, both pre-med and sports, but it’s something way bigger than us that’s in our future.”
“I just want to help kids, because I feel like they’re the biggest dreamers and they have the most potential,” added Ulofoshio, who became enamored with pediatrics after his mother bought a medicine book at a garage sale in Alaska. “It’s really hard to tell a kid no. I was a stubborn kid, so you couldn’t tell me that I couldn’t do things. I always feel like those are the most important people to help.”
To be certain, Ulofoshio has received help along the way — from his parents, who provided an uncompromising example; from his coaches, who provided opportunity; from Longo, who provided a push.
From his heritage, which provided perspective.
This summer, the Ulofoshios returned to their native Nigeria, where Edefuan earned dual citizenship in 2015. Where his grandmother, Alice Ulofoshio, saved enough money selling food in local markets to send her sons to Alaska, in search of a better life. Where generations have persevered through poverty and war.
“So to me, I just harnessed that,” Ulofoshio said of the experience. “Whatever I do, it’s not hard. It’s not hard compared to what other people are going through in life.”
He’s not the same kid who slept with a football under his arm.
But Edefuan is not done dreaming.
“Goal for 2021: play on January 1, 2022,” Ulofoshio tweeted on New Year’s Day, while watching the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Of course, the path to the playoff begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
One foot in front of the other.
“I think we have the potential to be a great defense,” Edefuan Ulofoshio said last month. “We have speed on the perimeters. We have great d-tackles. We have very, very talented outside backers. But that’s talent. Now the job is to do it and to maximize our potential.
“I like where we’re at, but we just have to work. It’s all about the work.”