Fatukasi brothers living their dreams with Jets, Rutgers in unique times
They’re so close, yet so far.
It’s a tantalizing tease for all involved.
Three brothers from Far Rockaway, via Nigeria, who love each other unconditionally, are living 33 miles apart — and yet they can never see each other.
Proud parents who live some 60 miles away in Queens cannot even watch, in person, as their boys live out their childhood fantasies on their respective fields of dreams.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its protocols have taken those mundane conveniences away from the Fatukasi family, but have not deterred the determination of the Fatukasi brothers.
Folorunso Fatukasi is in his third season as a Jets defensive tackle. Olakunle, four years Folorunso’s junior, is a senior linebacker at Rutgers. Tunde is a freshman offensive lineman at Rutgers.
The boys see each other about as often as they would if each were playing on the other side of the country because of the differing schedules of the Jets and Rutgers and the protocols each has in place, the teams trying their best to keep their players in a bubble.
These are unprecedented times, but times the brothers have refused to allow to get them down — even as their teams are losing.
Folorunso, nicknamed “Foley,’’ is 0-10 with the Jets as they play the Dolphins (6-4) on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Olakunle, nicknamed ‘O3’ (a combination of his first name and jersey number), and Tunde are 1-4 with Rutgers, but part of a team on the rise with the return of head coach Greg Schiano, competitive in the Big Ten for the first time since joining the powerhouse conference.
It’s a delicate balance on which the brothers live. They’re each living out their dreams in different phases of their lives:
- Folorunso beating the odds as the first player out of his high school to play Division I football (Connecticut) and then get drafted by the Jets in the sixth round three years ago.
- Olakunle asserting himself into the NFL draft conversation at Rutgers, recording 15 tackles and two sacks in the Scarlet Knights triple-overtime loss to Michigan last Saturday.
- Tunde, who has yet to play for Rutgers in his first year, hopes to follow in his brother Olakunle’s footsteps and become a key starter for the Scarlet Knights.
“It’s a surreal feeling having all three of us playing in New Jersey,’’ Folorunso told The Post this week. “We didn’t expect this. It’s kind of cool how all three of us are here together.’’
They certainly didn’t expect to be a combined 1-14 entering this weekend.
“Me and [Olakunle] always talk about, regardless of the adversities, you have to continue to work on your craft,’’ Folorunso said. “You have to get better. The more you focus on that will ultimately get to you to where you see yourself and the rest of the team. It’s frustrating to lose, yeah, but you the work doesn’t stop.’’
Olakunle said he and his older brother, with whom he said he usually speaks to by phone after games, “have talked about’’ how to change the losing.
“Every week, every day, you wake up and have got to grind that day, that moment,’’ Olakunle told The Post. “If you think about losing all the time, that’s having a losing mentality. You’ve got to wake up every day with a winning mentality and think, ‘I’m going to be great today.’
“That’s what makes us who we are today, because we don’t get distracted with the outside and focus on one thing — the moment.’’
Those moments would never have been possible if not for a school bus ride when Folorunso was in seventh grade and Olakunle was in third grade.
“I was on the bus coming from school and I see this guy looking at me and a friend of mine and we were wondering why he was staring,’’ Folorunso recalled. “Then he asked, ‘Do you guys want to play football?’ We were like, ‘Yeah, we’ll play football.’ He said to meet him at this field for a practice.’’
Folorunso said he cannot remember the name of the coach who recruited him and his brother on that bus to play for the Rockaway Raiders.
“But that’s how that story started … and the rest is history,’’ he said.
“That was the first time playing organized football for us, and that one day changed everything for us,’’ Olakunle recalled.
“Being a professional football player wasn’t on my mind at that time,’’ Folorunso said. “I played basketball and wanted to go as far as I could with basketball. But God had a different plan for me in my life. This is how it worked out.’’
Now Folorunso is trying to forge the path for his younger brothers to follow in his steps.
“It’s a blessing to see them doing so well,’’ he said. “It makes me feel like, ‘OK, they’re watching, they’re learning, and I’ve got to still keep doing things the right way because they’re watching.’ However much I accomplish, I want them to accomplish more. Whatever they see me do, I have confidence that they’re going to surpass it.’’
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