College News & Analysis

Student of the game: Penn State OT Olu Fashanu is excelling both on the field and in the classroom

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Olu Fashanu never thought his future would be on the gridiron. 

He originally attended Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., intending to play basketball. However, Fashanu wasn’t finding the same joy on the hardwood as he once did as a kid.

“All my life, I always played basketball,” he said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “But as I got older, I was just the bigger center who was there to rebound and play defense. I wasn’t really enjoying it that much.”

At his high school’s freshman orientation barbecue, Gonzaga’s football coaches convinced Fashanu to give football a try, at least to stay in shape. 

“I really joined the football team my freshman year to condition myself for basketball season in the winter,” Fashanu said. “While I was playing, I figured out I enjoyed football a lot more.”

Boosting his enjoyment was the fact that he protected the blindside of Caleb Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy this past season and is the early favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft

“It sounds crazy, but it’s no surprise that he won the Heisman Trophy,” Fashanu said. “He’s also completely down-to-Earth. So many times, he’d buy the O-line meals after games. He didn’t need to do that. He went out of his way to appreciate us and that’s the type of guy he is.”

While Williams was a five-star recruit in the 2021 class, Fashanu was a three-star in 2020. Ultimately, his recruitment came down to three Big Ten schools: Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.

“What separated Penn State from the rest was its location,” Fashanu said. “It’s not too far from home, but it’s far enough that my parents aren’t expecting me to come home and do chores. I also always felt at home during my visits there. The last reason is how much they stressed academics, which is a big deal to my parents and me.” 

Education has always played a pivotal role in Fashanu’s life, something that was instilled by his parents, Paige and Anthony. 

“When I was getting scholarships out of high school, my parents made sure I knew that even though I was going to school for free to play football, I was also going there to get a free degree,” Fashanu said. “That’s something I always wanted to do both for myself and for my parents. They sacrificed so much to help get me where I’m at today.”

He spent his initial two seasons at Penn State mostly on the bench before becoming the starting left tackle as a redshirt sophomore. Those first two years proved to be fruitful, as Fashanu emerged as one of the best pass-protectors in college football in 2022. His 84.7 pass-blocking grade ranked sixth among Power Five tackles, and he surrendered just one hit and no sacks on 281 pass-blocking snaps. Fashanu believes his dominance on Saturdays was a product of his preparation during the week.

“What separates me from other tackles is my attention to detail going into gameday,” he said. “I watch film on our opponents to pick up on their tendencies. For example, when we played Auburn, I knew that Derick Hall had a really good power profile. He likes to bull rush, use his long arm and work other moves around it. That’s something I picked up very quickly.”

Many NFL draft pundits pegged Fashanu as a first-round selection in the 2023 draft due to his smoothness in pass protection and the fact that he only turned 20 years old in December. However, he shocked everyone when he announced that he’d be returning to Penn State for his redshirt junior campaign. 

“There were a lot of reasons for why I wanted to come back,” Fashanu said. “I wanted to graduate in the summer and start my master’s degree in the fall. Also, it was a great season last year, and I loved how we finished it off by winning the Rose Bowl. But the entire team, not just me, knows we can go a lot farther than the Rose Bowl. We all have bigger aspirations than that.”

With his return, Fashanu placed fourth in our top-10 returning offensive tackles list and looks like a potential top-10 selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. When asked if he thought about all of the accolades the future might hold, he shrugged it off.

“I’m not really thinking about that,” he said with a laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m just being honest. I just want to stay in the moment because I’ve had experiences where I’ve looked too far ahead and it’s backfired. As long as I can keep my grades up and help the team win, I’ll be happy as ever.”

That’s not to say Fashanu isn’t confident in his game. 

“Personally, I think I’m the best tackle in the country,” he said. “But I think any starting tackle should say that. I’d hope our starting right tackle also thinks he’s the best tackle in college football.”

Fashanu wants to be the best both on the field and in the classroom. In fact, he asked to push back this interview to the weekend because he needed to study for an exam. He’s a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree as a supply chain management major. Once his NFL career is finished, Fashanu already knows what he’d like to do in life after football.

“Ideally, I’d want to get into the pharmaceutical sector,” he said. “Maybe I can work for a company like Johnson & Johnson.”

That’s still something for him to worry about in the future, and Fashanu is solely focused on the here and now. When asked what his goals were for this upcoming year, he asked for clarification.

“Wait, do you mean football?” he asked. “Personally, I want to graduate in the summer and start my master’s in the fall.” 

As for on-the-field…

“I want the Big Ten Championship. I want that. I need it. Right after that, I want a national championship…badly.”

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