If he hadn’t become a hard-hitting safety for the Illini, Supo Sanni might have suited up for Brad Stevens’ back-to-back national runner-up basketball teams at Butler. At times, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior might have wished he chose the hardwood over the gridiron. The fifth-year senior missed the 2010 season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and sat out the first four games of this season with a sprained left knee. The Homewood-Flossmoor product made his return last week, making a career-high 10 tackles against Penn State and he’s hoping for more of the same today in Madison.
It had been a while since you played a game, how did you feel on Sunday? I felt sore. If I didn’t feel sore, then I didn’t do enough on the football field. But, it felt great being back out there. I just love being out there with my teammates and my brother. Being able to do something about the losing and provide for the team is the biggest thing for me.
Last week Nathan Scheelhaase told me you are the old man on the team, do you feel old yet? I do. There have been people before me who did it and I’ve got a lot of my fifth-year guys who are still here with me, so we try to stick together and not think about the fact that when we were freshmen, some of these guys were in eighth grade.
When you got back out there last week, was it like you had never left once the game started? Oh yeah. It felt normal for me, like this was where I needed to be. Everybody feels that way. Getting accustomed to doing what I know I can do was the biggest thing. Being able to provide as the quarterback of the defense, making the calls and the necessary checks was good.
Did you ever get to a point where you thought your career might be over? No, I really didn’t. After my Achilles injury, I knew I didn’t redshirt my freshman year. I played, so I knew I would have two more years to play. The injury never was one where I didn’t think I was going to recover from it. That’s the type of mind-set you have to have.
You guys went through the tough stretch last year, what’s the feeling when you continue to lose? It’s tough. The biggest thing is being able to have that experience to know how it feels to be in a position like this. I’ve been on 3-9 teams and I’ve been on the 7-6 teams. We know what we have to do to get back to where we want to be and this will be a test for us. Playing Wisconsin, this could decide a lot and where we end up the rest of the season.
Did you have offers to play basketball in college? Yeah, it was mainly midmajors (Butler, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Toledo). I didn’t want to be that basketball player that could have been better in football because a lot of athletes come out of Chicago thinking their talent is with basketball and they could have been an awesome football player.
If John Groce calls you in December and says ‘Hey, Supo, I need you’, are you going to be able to help him out? If that’s what it takes, then, yeah, I’ll go do it.
Can you beat your sister (Yinka) in basketball? I get this all the time. I can beat her, but I think I would let her win. She’s played in the WNBA and she’s playing over in France right now.
Tell me about the charity you two have together. It’s been like two years now, the Sanni Foundation. We started off small, wanted to help inner-city children experience exercise and then we started getting bigger. We started doing charity events, feeding the homeless and then the breast cancer walks and different things in Chicago.
What made you decide to get involved in that? We wanted kids to be able to do the things we couldn’t do when we were younger. So, being able to come out of the neighborhood and to be able to play, exercise and it all came from when we were younger and things we wanted to do and experience. As athletes, we want to give back and teach the lessons that we’ve learned and tell them how they can better themselves.
So, you guys weren’t able to do those things as kids? Yeah, we grew up in Chicago Heights and it was tough to play organized sports and things of that nature because my mom worked two jobs and she couldn’t take us to games and all that stuff. We know what it’s like and we just want to be that extra person who gave someone a chance. There were parents who helped us get from AAU games to football practices and we just wanted to give back.
When did your parents move here from Nigeria? My mom was 21 and my dad was 19 when they came here. We were all born here. My mom is a store owner. She owns an African grocery store and my dad is a Realtor.
Do you speak another language? Yoruba. Well, I understand it.
Does your name mean anything in particular? Wealth surrounds me. My full first name is Olasupo.
Whatever happened to your high school teammate, (former Illini linebacker) Russell Ellington? He transferred. He’s one of my best friends and couldn’t get through the rigors of Illinois. But, he’s found happiness elsewhere, playing football at Morehouse.
What else besides the charity and sports interests you? Really, just family time. I love spending time with my family, doing anything with them.
What are your plans after football? I want to become an athletic director. I want to have a career in sports. I’ll go to grad school and do the necessary things to make sure I put myself in a position to achieve that.
So many guys now are wearing the big headphones before games. What are you listening to? I’m a big Jay-Z fan, but I like to listen to a variety of things. I like a little Slipknot, something to get me pumped up. But, I’m big on Jay-Z, I’m big on Kanye West.