Edefuan Ulofoshio is poised to be the next Alaskan in the NFL

Feb. 29—The annual NFL scouting combine is taking place this week in Indianapolis, Indiana, and among the 321 players with hopes of making it to the highest level of football will be Edefuan Ulofoshio of Anchorage.

Ulofoshio, coming off a standout senior season at the University of Washington, has dreamed and tirelessly worked to make it this far and knows it's still just the beginning of an inspiring journey.

"A lot of people didn't think I'd be here, but it's a very big honor that I got here to this point," he said. "It would definitely mean the world just to show kids that it's possible. They can do it and you just gotta put in the work and not give up, no matter what anyone says."

Ulofoshio plans to make a strong impression on pro scouts and league executives this week after helping the Huskies make the FBS national championship game as a starting linebacker.

While Washington came up short against the University of Michigan, Ulofoshio posted an impressive list of accomplishments in his final season. He recorded career-high stats across the board, was named to the AP's All-America Third Team and the All-Pac-12 First Team, and was a Butkus Award Finalist for the nation's top linebacker.

"To have the season that we had is magical, and it's just a testament to how hard those guys work," Ulofoshio said. "It was definitely something special even though we didn't get to finish it the way that we wanted to."

Washington's 2023 roster included some of the best players in the nation who are also poised to make the NFL leap, including Heisman Trophy finalist Michael Penix Jr. at quarterback, projected top 15 pick Rome Odunze at wide receiver and potential first-rounder Bralen Trice at outside linebacker, to name a few.

To have been able to be a standout among standouts who are likely to be starting in the NFL on Sunday this fall was extremely validating for Ulofoshio and proved that all of his sacrifices and hard work were worthwhile.

"It's definitely an honor, especially just having all the years and the injuries and stuff just to have a year where you play like, 15 games, and you stand out and you get recognized as one of the better players on the team," he said. "It means a lot because when I went there from Alaska, you didn't see that."

A leap of faith that took him out of Alaska

Ulofoshio attended Anchorage's South High for his first two years of high school, but he played only one year of varsity football in Alaska as a sophomore before he was presented with an opportunity to chase his dreams outside the state.

"I just felt like it was hard to get recruited, and if I wanted to play at the level I wanted to play at, I needed to get to the Lower 48," he said.

Luckily for him, his mother needed to complete a practicum for her psychology degree, and there weren't any offered in Alaska at the time, so she had to relocate to Las Vegas.

"I kind of just piggybacked on her and just said, 'Hey, I want to do this and I need to go,' so that's kind of how that went down," Ulofoshio said.

He transferred to Bishop Gorman High School, one of the most prestigious prep programs in the country, producing four- and five-star recruits every year. After growing up in Alaska, adjusting to the new climate was even tougher than making the massive jump in the level of competition.

"It was a culture shock on so many different levels," Ulofoshio said. "First of all, the weather is insane. You think playing in the cold is an issue; playing in the heat is like, 10 times worse."

He recalls practicing in triple-digit temperatures and "literally hallucinating on the football field."

It took him about half a year to establish himself with the Gaels. Even though he wasn't able to parlay his time there into a full-ride scholarship to an FBS program, it prepared him for what would lie ahead.

Finding his role with the Huskies

Although he didn't have any top-tier Division I scholarship offers, Ulofoshio was being recruited by a pair of FCS schools: Robert Morris and Northern Arizona University. He bet on himself and took a preferred walk-on offer to earn his way to a scholarship at Washington.

"When I walked on at (Washington), I knew that I could be successful because I basically did the same thing at Gorman," he said. "I just came in there out of nowhere and they didn't know who I was, and I had to find my way to get there."

The process of establishing himself within the Huskies program took longer than he anticipated. After six months, he hadn't made headway on the depth chart despite feeling like he was improving.

"It's just literally improving every single day and waiting for your turn, and then one thing leads to another and you're on the football field," Ulofoshio said.

Climbing the depth chart didn't come close to being the toughest hurdle he had to clear during his time with the program. He suffered a pair of injuries within months of each other that helped shape him into the person and player he is today.

The first required surgery to repair a ruptured bicep. Then he had knee surgery four months later.

"It most definitely was a crucible and just a big test for sure," Ulofoshio said. "I had to grow up a lot. I matured a lot and made sure that my circle was good."

To have been able to overcome all of that adversity to have the final college season he had made the fruits of his labor that much sweeter.

"After all that craziness, you don't think that all that is going to happen," he said. "The only thing that I told myself last year was just, 'endure.' "

Importance of representing the 49th state

Ulofoshio is of Nigerian heritage but considers himself Alaskan through and through.

It was in Alaska where his passion for the game began, and his dream to make it to the highest level someday was fostered by playing Pop Warner football for the South Anchorage Jaguars.

"That's where I got the love of the game," Ulofoshio said. "Just from playing with those guys and playing in a community that just loves football, loves their people, and loves bringing people together."

He says he's grateful for the time he got to spend playing at South before moving out of state to better set himself up to make his dreams come true.

Ulofoshio said he kept a keen eye on Brandon Pili, who left Dimond High to compete in the Lower 48 and later played Division I football.

"I didn't necessarily go out that way, but I'm always going to take a lot of pride in being from Alaska because not a lot of people get out necessarily," he said.

[Anchorage's Brandon Pili earned his way onto the Miami Dolphins roster for his NFL debut]

He is part of a recent rise in NFL-caliber talent to emerge from Alaska, joining Pili, Palmer's Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and Tyree Wilson, who is believed to be the highest-ever pick for an Alaska-born NFL player after he was drafted No. 7 overall by the Las Vegas Raiders last year.

"The state has always had a lot of talent, and there's been a lot of times that I've seen players from this state not get the chance in the Lower 48," Ulofoshio said. "For them to be able to break that stigma a little bit is super exciting."

[3 NFL rookies with Alaska roots are living their dreams and proud of where they come from]

He hopes to see more in the coming years with several Alaskans either committed to play or already playing for Division I programs. He specifically cited West Anchorage's Aaron Hampton, who was the 2023-24 Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year and will be playing in the ACC for the University of California, Berkeley.

Being a trailblazer for other young Alaskans is something he views as a "huge honor and a lot of responsibility."

"I took my role as a college football player very seriously because I know not all people where I come from got to this point," Ulofoshio said. "For me, there wasn't a lot of wasted time. There wasn't a lot of goofing around."

Expectations for the combine and plans afterward

After starting the pre-draft process by making a good impression at the Reese's Senior Bowl, Ulofoshio will try to open some eyes at the NFL combine. He's among the linebackers and defensive linemen taking the field Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium for athletic testing and position drills.

"It is a responsibility because you don't want to just be a guy that just goes out there and just acts a fool," Ulofoshio said. "I want to represent the state well, and I know that like, my actions — whether it be good or bad — reflects on this state."

He believes that one of his biggest strengths is an ability to adapt to any situation and any environment like water, taking whatever shape or role needed to get the job done.

"There's ebbs and flows, and there's certain types of things that change within a game," Ulofoshio said. "If you're playing like a spread team and they want to air it out, you have to be superfluid in pass (coverage) and if they call your number to blitz, you got to be able to be slippery off blocks in the run game. If a certain team wants to go downhill run, you have to turn to ice to blow things up."

Many rookie linebackers have to earn their stripes at the NFL level by playing on special teams. While that's not a phase of the game that all prospects are accustomed to or comfortable with, Ulofoshio enjoys it and embraces all that it entails.

"Special teams is my middle name," he said. "I wouldn't have played at (Washington) if I wasn't good at special teams. It's super huge and I've been fortunate enough to play for a program that really prioritizes special teams."

Ulofoshio is undecided on where he'll have his watch party for the 2024 NFL Draft, which will take place April 25-27. Whether it's in Alaska, Washington or Orange County, Florida, where he's currently training at Exos Sports, it will be small and intimate, and he'll be surrounded by family.

"I don't want nothing too crazy," he said. "I don't want the draft to be like, the peak. I just want it to be another chapter. A great chapter, but just another one. So it's not gonna be too big. It'll probably just be with the family."