“I really don’t know too much about that,” Arkansas’ junior linebacker said. “They came to my school and recruited my teammate, so I don’t know.”
And he doesn’t care.
“I’m kind of glad I’m at where I'm at now,” he said.
Sam Olajubutu was the Class AAA defensive player of the year and had 170 tackles as a senior in high school, but the Razorbacks and Mississippi State were the only Southeastern Conference schools to offer him a scholarship. The reason is clear when you look to the right of his name on the Razorbacks roster and see this: 5-foot-9.
That’s too short to be a linebacker in the SEC, the traditional thinking goes, and, until Olajubutu came along, it was. Now, he’s the shortest starting linebacker in the conference.
“I think I have to prove myself every week because once I don‘t do something quite right, (people) might go back and say, ‘It’s because of his size or height or whatever,’” said Olajubutu, the Hogs’ starter on the weakside.
Arkansas (2-4, 0-3 SEC) will take on No. 4 Georgia (6-0, 4-0) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The game will be televised by Jefferson-Pilot.
“I’ll tell you what, he is having a tremendous football season, what a football player,” Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. “He probably has the biggest heart we have on that field. He may be small in stature, but just a tremendous attitude.”
Olajubutu is not only starting for the Razorbacks. He’s starring. He leads Arkansas in tackles (68), tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (3), and he is second in SEC with 11.3 tackles per game.
“He doesn’t leave the field for us defensively,” Nutt said. “You don’t feel good unless No. 24 is out there.”
The problem for Olajubutu is he’s doing it almost by himself. The Razorbacks are ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring defense (31.3 points per game allowed) and total defense (424.3 yards per game allowed). Arkansas’ second-leading tackler, safety Vickiel Vaughn, has 40 tackles, 28 fewer than Olajubutu.
“I don’t put it like that at all,” he said graciously. “I don’t think I’m doing anything by myself.”
The kinesiology major didn’t seem destined for such a standout season in the winter, when he ended up on the wrong side of first-year defensive coordinator Reggie Herring and found himself near the bottom of the depth chart despite starting eight games in 2004.
“I just kept working had and kept fighting and once I got on the field, I showed (Herring) what I could do on the field,” Olajubutu said. “After that, we just kicked it off real good.”
Olajubutu expects to have between 20 and 30 family members at Saturday’s game, depending on how many tickets he can find. He said this week that playing Georgia means more to him than playing Auburn, whose campus is closer to his home, and he had 18 tackles last week against the Tigers.
“It’s going to be real exciting for me to go back down to my home state,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of motivation to come back and play against those guys.”