Tuesday, May 18, 2021

NFL draft hopeful Azeez Ojulari is descended from Nigerian royalty

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He’s regal both on the field — and off.

Azeez Ojulari is a highly touted linebacker out of the University of Georgia, expected to be a first-round draft pick this week. What makes him stand out? “I’m relentless, and an all-around player,” the 20-year-old told The Post. “I’ll stop the run, rush the passer, create and force fumbles. I can play special teams. I can really do it all.”

Off the field, Ojulari — who hails from Marietta, Georgia — has even more unique bona fides: He is descended from Nigerian royalty.

His maternal grandfather was a prince and a globetrotting artist whose paintings were exhibited around the world. Born Olaniyi Osuntoki in 1944, he changed his name to Prince Twins Seven-Seven because he was the sole survivor of his parents’ seven sets of twins. In the late 1890s, Prince Twins Seven-Sevens’ grandfather was the king of Ibadan, a city in southwestern Nigeria populated by the Yoruba, one of the country’s main ethnic tribes.

Before he died of complications from a stroke in 2011, he was about to become the chief of his clan.

“Yeah, it comes up a lot,” said Ojulari of his royal roots. “[My friends] are always like, ‘Prince Azeez. Prince Azeez is in the house!’ They’re always joking,” he said, adding he doesn’t make a big deal of his impressive lineage. “I’m pretty laid back,” he said with a laugh.

Ojulari has never been to Nigeria, where his mother Bolalne and father Monsuru were born and raised before they met in Philadelphia and settled in Georgia. But he plans to make a trip there, perhaps after he gets his footing in the NFL.

“I definitely want to go. It’s a must. It’s really big knowing what [my grandfather] meant to the country and everything he’s done. And he did it in a first-class manner.”

Prince Twins Seven-Seven was a traveling dancer and singer, who later became a skilled painter. His colorful works were inspired by Yoruban myths, and have been exhibited in museums including the Pompidou Center in Paris and National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian. In 2005 he was named UNESCO’s Artist for Peace. When he died, his obituary ran in the New York Times.

His grandfather briefly lived with the family when Ojulari was about 10. At the time, he made a prediction about his athletically gifted scion.

I was running around the house one day and he told me to come here. And he told me I was going to be special one day. That he believes it, and he knows that it was going to happen.”

Now, Ojulari said, “I can’t let him down. I know he’s always looking down on me.”

Ojulari doesn’t think his grandfather necessarily saw pigskin as his path to greatness, but the sport has become an integral part of his household. His younger brother, BJ, is a standout defensive end at LSU.

The New York Giants — who have the 11th pick this year — have reportedly been interested in the 6-foot-2 linebacker. If the Giants do chose him, Ojulari would not be the franchise’s first Nigerian royal. Former Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara’s grandfather was the king of the Awo-Omamma in Nigeria’s Imo State. Retired defensive end Osi Umenyiora’s father was king in the village of Ogbunike and during a trip there in 2008, he was named an honorary chief.

As a kid, Ojulari said he rooted for the Atlanta Falcons, unaware of the G-Men’s Nigerian connection. But he’s “antsy” and “excited” to see where he’ll end up. “You don’t really know unless you’re Trevor Lawrence,” he said of the former Clemson quarterback who is expected to be picked first by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Despite his royal background, Ojulari grew up a typical American kid. On draft night, as his family and high school friends gather at his Marietta home, they’ll be feasting on grub from Southern chain Bojangles. Outside of football, he said he’s passionate about another, less rough-and-tumble game: chess.

“I grew up playing chess. I was a chess guy and in a club in elementary school. I still play a bit but not as much. It helps me [on the field] because you have to think through every move you make.”

He said he knows his extended Nigerian family will be supporting him from afar this week.

“We have a lot of family in Nigeria. They always call my dad and mom and let them know ‘We’re watching him. We’re following him. We see him on TV,’ ” he said, adding that he wants to live up to his ancestors’ rich and colorful history.

“I approach everything the right way, not wanting to let them down.”

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