Sometimes, all it takes is one game to make a player a prospect.
For Warren, Mich., Mott High School's C.J. Olaniyan, that opportunity came in a state playoff game against Cass Tech, where he went head to head with 6-foot-5, 330-pound U.S. Army-American and eventual Michigan recruit William Campbell.
"There were two games last year that really stand out to me when talking about C.J. During our [28-27 win over] Grosse Pointe North, he had two series in a row where he made six of the eight possible plays. The other was when he squared off with William Campbell,'' Mott coach Tom Milanov said. "I won't say he outplayed him, but he fared very well. A performance like that adds credibility.''
Although Mott lost by three, it got Olaniyan - then known as "Kazeem'' - a lot of that, and turned him from a basketball prospect into a player football coaches knew could play big-time ball.
"It was good [going against Campbell]. I liked the challenge. I stepped up,'' Olaniyan said. "That game got me 10 [scholarship] offers.''
Olaniyan ended up with a lot more than that, receiving offers from most of the Big Ten and colleges from Miami to Oklahoma to UCLA to Oregon and most parts in between. Last week, though, Olaniyan, a nearly 6-foot-5, 230-pound defensive end, decided to make a verbal commitment to Penn State.
"When I visited Penn State [in the spring], I knew that was the kind of place I wanted to go. I just waited to see my other options. After I'd seen them, I thought I might as well make my commitment,'' Olaniyan said. "I loved the coaches, the atmosphere, the program. It just felt like home.''
Many Nittany Lion followers thought it would be hard to pry Olaniyan away from Michigan State. To hear Olaniyan, who kept his recruitment close to the vest before committing, it sounded like everyone was chasing Penn State over the summer.
"My mom and dad got the feeling from my thoughts that was where I was going to go, so they were ready for it,'' said Olaniyan, whose final four included Miami, Missouri and UCLA after Michigan State pulled out of the running early last week.
Last season, Olaniyan keyed the Marauders to a 6-4 record by recording sacks on 10 of his 81 tackles and making 14 tackles in the backfield. He's on a pace to post similar numbers as a senior - in Mott's first three games, he made 19 stops and registered 4 sacks. Mott is now 3-1.
Olaniyan also had 33 receptions last year as a flex tight end. He's always been considered a top-notch athlete, as evidenced by his ranking as the 22nd best sophomore in the Adidas Phenom Basketball Camp in 2007 and his ability to high jump and run the 400-meter dash in track.
"He always was a pretty good athlete for his size. I didn't know he'd blow up this big, but we had a feeling he'd be Division I. All along, he passed the eyeball test,'' Milanov said.
Olaniyan said he feels he needs to improve his hand work, but he thinks he can do that.
"My biggest strength is the way I run to the ball and that I play hard,'' Olaniyan said.
Olaniyan, the son of Nigerian immigrants, is also considering a January enrollment. He's the third defensive end to commit to Penn State for 2010, joining Kyle Baublitz and Dakota Royer, a hybrid linebacker. The Lions are also pursuing Staten Island's Dominique Easley, who took his official visit to Penn State this weekend.
"When I spoke to the coaches, they said they don't have a lot of depth at defensive end.
They said they like play four defensive ends a game. They'd give me a chance to compete,'' Olaniyan said.
Olaniyan didn't grow up a Penn State fan. In fact, he actually pulled for USC until Penn State offered him a scholarship, and rooted for the Trojans in this year's Rose Bowl. That would have to change if the Lions and Trojans faced off again.
"I guess if I play them,'' Olaniyan said, "we'd have to beat them.''