After Bellarmine College Prep lost nearly every significant contributor from a team that reached the state final, Kenneth Olugbode knew his role would dramatically change this fall.
He spent the offseason preparing for the challenge, studying film, working on drills and listening to his mother tell him about becoming a leader.
Olugbode, the last of three brothers to play for Bellarmine, achieved his mission and more. Despite suffering a knee injury early in the season, the two-way standout overcame the pain to lead the Bells to a West Catholic Athletic League championship and within inches of repeating as Central Coast Section Open Division champions.
For this, the linebacker/running back is the Mercury
"He was truly the leader on our team on both offense and defense," coach Mike Janda said. "It's amazing how he worked so well with the younger players. His maturity level was beyond expectations."
The San Jose State-bound Olugbode did more than provide guidance for teammates. He also changed positions midstream, moving from tight end to running back just before league play opened.
The move gave Bellarmine the offense it needed to beat the likes of Serra and St. Ignatius en route to an undefeated league record.
"Him playing running back for us was a critical part of our offensive success," Janda said. "He got the tough yards. When we needed 4, he'd get 5, When we needed 3, he'd get 4.
Olugbode missed one game after suffering a strained medial collateral ligament against Piedmont Hills in September but returned for a crucial game against Archbishop Mitty in early October.
Bellarmine edged the Monarchs 14-10, a victory that got the Bells rolling toward the league championship.
"I thought he carried them for the majority of the year," Mitty coach Matt Haniger said. "If they don't have him, I think they lose four or five games."
Olugbode said the Mitty game was the most painful for his knee but also was rewarding.
"I felt like after that game, I knew exactly where we could go," he said. "It was painful. I had a nice, big knee brace on that game, but I knew there was no way I could go out of this game. The team needed me."
Olugbode became Bellarmine's go-to player, finishing with 739 yards and 10 touchdowns on 127 carries. He also was the leading tackler on a defense that had some huge moments, including a goal-line stand against Serra that clinched the Bells' spot in the Open Division title game.
Terra Nova coach Bill Gray, whose team lost to Bellarmine in the opening round of the playoffs, marveled over Olugbode's closing speed to the ball from middle linebacker.
"He's unblockable," Gray said. "He just slips off blocks."
Olugbode's season did not have a storybook ending. On a fourth-down run near the goal line in the Open final, St. Ignatius stopped him just inches from a potential winning touchdown, then ended the Bells' season in overtime.
"It's a game of inches," Olugbode said. "I had most of my upper body over the line, I guess. I have no idea if the ball crossed or not."
That aside, Olugbode achieved everything he envisioned during his offseason preparation.
"I feel like I brought leadership, and, like Coach Janda says, I was the heart and soul of the team," Olugbode said. "I brought enthusiasm and fire to every practice -- and happiness. A lot of people forget it's just a game, and we've got to have fun. That's really what makes you play your best."