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Tokunbo Abanikanda area scout - southeast region

By Matthew Tabeek

"I’m one of the very few people who grew up here, who grew up a Falcons fan, who grew up seeing it, just seeing Falcons all around. I want to bring a Super Bowl to my city. That’s what drives me."

Forget playing, it’s tough enough trying to make it in the NFL as a coach or scout. It’s even rarer to land a job with your hometown or favorite team while growing up – and actually have an impact on how the team is built.

One person who can check off all of those boxes is Tokunbo Abanikanda, an area scout for the Falcons who’s from nearby Marietta and grew up rooting for players like Deion Sanders and Michael Vick.

And nothing motivates Abanikanda more than a chance to bring a Super Bowl to the city he loves.

“Once you win it, it’s for life – you can always say you’re a Super Bowl champ,” Abanikanda said. “You can always say till the day you die that you were a part of it and had an impact on a team that won a Super Bowl.

“Now I have a lot of friends here. I have a ton of family here, so I will forever be thought of as someone who had an impact on his hometown team. I’d be doing it for the Brotherhood and I’d be doing it for family and friends.”

A true behind-the-scenes guy

If you think Abanikanda would rather catch the winning touchdown or make a game-clinching run to help secure Atlanta’s first Super Bowl title, think again.

“Put it like this: we’re like offensive linemen,” Abanikanda said when describing his role as a scout. “You’re never in the paper. Your name will never be called out over the intercom, but you do the dirty work. And when you see a touchdown, big catch, big play, you cheer – you’re just as happy as the guy who caught it or ran the ball. And that’s OK with me.”

Abanikanda relishes his role of being what he calls a behind-the-scenes guy. It started when he was playing linebacker in college at Southern Miss from 2005 to 2008. As he progressed through his career and started to wrap up his senior year, the reality that he might not have a long run – or any run, for that matter – in the NFL started to set in. But he loved the game and still wanted to leave his mark on it.

Abanikanda’s run in the NFL as a player was a short one. He participated in a rookie minicamp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Raheem Morris’s first year as head coach, but he wasn’t signed. He later returned to Southern Miss as a volunteer and that’s when he started to pay closer attention to the visiting scouts – and develop connections as he learned about their craft.

“I knew I wanted to have a greater impact on the sport I love – behind the scenes and in the front office,” Abanikanda said. “I wanted to be more hands-on with picking players. And it’s kind of challenge because you never know – it’s more so predicting, projecting and that’s the art of it and the challenge you have. So, I wanted to succeed in putting pieces together or have an impact doing it, an impact on a greater scale.”

Abanikanda developed his skills, learned as much as he could from other scouts and began networking. And then in 2012, Abanikanda attended the Senior Bowl and introduced himself to a number of general managers, including Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff.

Abanikanda was eventually offered an internship with the Falcons in 2012. He impressed the Falcons enough to be promoted to the Southwest area scout in 2013.

“We had a lot of movement then – Dave Caldwell left, Les Snead left, people sliding up, they were taking people to their organizations,” Abanikanda said. “I came in at the right time.”

The blueprint begins with the Brotherhood

Abanikanda’s work – and all of the work the college and pro scouts put in – might be behind the scenes, but it’s imperative to the Falcons’ success. And Abanikanda says it all begins with the Brotherhood and coach Dan Quinn.

“(The Brotherhood) is a real thing,” Abanikanda said. “First, it starts with DQ. He did a good job putting it in everyone. And what that means is when I’m doing the grunt work, we may think it will go unnoticed, may go unrecognized, but it doesn’t. People realize it. People see what you do. … That’s the Brotherhood. When everyone goes out there and does this thing for their brother, that’s how tight we are. That lets you know how tight we are.”

Abanikanda said the Falcons scouts know exactly what kind of player they are looking for when they’re out on the road and visiting campuses, in his case schools and prospects in the Southeast region of the country that includes Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“(Dimitroff and Quinn) give you the blueprint, but it’s still a challenge finding people that fit,” Abanikanda said. “And their relationship up top – it bleeds all the way down.”

Speaking of the top, Abanikanda said he feels fortunate to be working under “one of the best GMs in the league” in Dimitroff. In fact, his ultimate goal is one day to be a general manager.

But for right now, he’s focused on just one thing: bringing a Super Bowl to his hometown.

“I’m one of the very few people who grew up here, who grew up a Falcons fan, who grew up seeing it, just seeing Falcons all around,” he said. “I want to bring a Super Bowl to my city. That’s what drives me.”

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