Five years ago, Frederick Henry-Ajudua was lining up kicks and drilling field goals. Now, he’s racking up sacks at the Division I level.
In NCCU’s 31-14 win over Bethune-Cookman University, Fredrick, who goes by Freddie, had three sacks and allowed only 19 yards.
The eagles’ starting defensive end secured MEAC defensive player of the week honors with that performance, seeming to feel right at home pushing past blocks and pursuing the opposing quarterback.
But when Freddie first got into football, he was playing a much different role.
If you like Hillside football, you may remember December 10th, 2011 at BB&T Field at Wake Forest University. It’s the Hillside Hornets taking on the Davie War Eagles for the 4A State Championship.
Freddie lines up for the opening kickoff and pummels the pigskin across the field, living up to his nickname at the time: “The Foot.”
Even as he bombed kickoffs and nailed extra points, his success as kicker never fully convinced anyone that he belonged in that position.
That’s because he wasn’t your standard kicker. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds during his senior year at Hillside High School, Freddie wasn’t the biggest guy on the field, but he was considered above the average size for most players in that position.
And it wasn’t just his size that set him apart. He could hit, too.
After a kick-off, when most kickers hang back behind the rest of the team, Freddie clothes-lined a running back, something the home crowd wouldn’t soon forget. That running back went on to play in the SEC, arguably college football’s most competitive conference.
Those kind of plays were too few and far between, said Freddie, who had a greater thirst for contact.
“I used to always tell coach ‘I want to play defense; I want to hit somebody.’ But they needed a kicker, at that point,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who’s ready to fill any job.”
He gravitated towards that aspect of the games because back in his homeland of Nigeria, the other futbol is king.
“All the leagues I used to play in, I was always getting MVP’s and other awards. They loved me,” Freddie said. “I always packed a lot if power behind my kicks. It was second nature to me.”
Coming to the United States at the age of 16 was a “culture shock” for him. He came here with his parents, Henry and Vivian Ajudua, as well as his two brothers, Henry and Emmanuel.
Together, they set off for a new chapter in America.
“I had to adapt. I changed the way I talked, the way I dressed. Even soccer was different because my high school didn’t have a team at the time,” Freddie said. “So, I decided to kick in football.”
At Hillside, though not in the position he ultimately wanted, his experience playing soccer seemed to prove beneficial. That team went on to have a historic 14-0 run.
“Kicking is always going to be my thing. It’s something I’ll never lose,” Freddie said.
Then in 2014, an opportunity to play for NCCU would allow him to get all the contact he craved.
The pharmaceutical science senior has beefed up a bit since his days at Hillside. At 6’2, and 245 pounds, the starting defensive end is looking to solidify his spot on the depth chart and to pursue even more ambitious dreams.
His brother Emmanuel said he’s always seen potential in Freddie, adding that he was always “aggressive” and “physical.”
He joked that growing up it was always a good time with Freddie, even when they got in trouble together.
“We always had each other’s backs,” he said.
Freddie credits a lot of his success and motivation on and off the field to Emmanuel, who is also plays for NCCU.
“It’s a blessing to have him on the team,” he said.
Before the game against Bethune Cookman, Emmanuel said he challenged Freddie to get “a minimum of three” tackles.
“He even left two or three out there on the field,” he added jokingly.
Defensive line coach Jonathan Bradley, who has four years of NFL experience, said Freddie, who is still relatively new to football, is starting to understand the game.
“He’s letting his mind slow the game down and letting his athletic ability take over,” Bradley said.
Bradley said he believes Freddie can take football as far as he wants to go. As long as he puts in the film work and does what he’s supposed to be doing, he’ll grow week to week, he said.
“My ultimate goal is to play in the NFL and make big plays. I don’t see why I can’t make it, I just have to put in the work, dedication, and keep God first,” Freddie said. “If we want to make it, we have to have a different standard. Because we’re a low Division I, they view us different. So we have to make big plays and do some crazy stuff out on the field.”
NCCU has had several players go on to the NFL, most recently Ryan Smith, who was the 108th pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“As for the rest of the season, I’m confident,” Freddie said. “We’ll have to take it one game at a time but I’m ready to get after it.”