In the makeshift mattress ring, Mafe was Triple H or John Cena. On the basketball courts near his home in Minneapolis, he imitated Kevin Garnett. When he started playing field football as a pre-teen, he could emulate Jared Allen or Kam Chancellor. It was a quintessentially American childhood until Maye’s father announced that Mafe would be spending his eighth year at a boarding school in Nigeria.
“My dad wanted me and my siblings to have a little experience of how he grew up,” Mafe said.
Her parents were first-generation immigrants who still spoke the Yoruba language at home and wanted to imbibe the culture in their children. Mafe only learned at the end of the summer that he would be spending a year abroad starting this fall.
“I prepared as soon as I could,” he said. “But you can’t plan everything.”
Lagos, Nigeria is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city of over 15 million people. Mafe’s boarding school was just outside one of its densest urban centers. He lived in a cramped dormitory with three other young teenagers. He did some field trips and visited his extended family still living in Nigeria. He took local language classes and took crash courses in Yoruba culture and how to get by on your own in a big city when your parents are at a continent.
Mafe describes Yoruba culture as being about respect.
“You treat everyone there almost like family,” he said. “You call your neighbors ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’. You take care of each other like family.”
However, with this mutual respect comes a need for autonomy.
“If you want something there, if you want to progress, you have to go get it yourself,” Mafe said, “where I think in America there are more opportunities where people come help you.”
Mafe returned to America naturally more mature. Plus, he was suddenly 6ft 4in. High school football and basketball beckoned. But Mafe’s jump shot “wasn’t the prettiest”, in his own words, so he focused on football. He became one of Minnesota State’s top defensive rookies and a priority rookie in the state when PJ Fleck took over as Minnesota’s head coach.
Mafe’s college career got off to a slow start, but he exploded in 2021 with seven sacks, including five in three games against Colorado, Bowling Green State and Purdue. Since then, Mafe’s draft stock has steadily increased. He was one of the stars of Senior Bowl practices, then recorded two sacks and earned National Player of the Game honors in the Senior Bowl itself. He showed his raw athleticism at the scouting combine with a 4.53 s dash from 40 yards, a vertical jump of 38 inches and a wide jump of 125 inches. He increased that vertical result to 42 inches on his pro day.
Mafe has several team visits scheduled over each of the next few weeks and is getting the buzz in the first round in a packed peak class. You can read our scouting report on him in FO 40.
“You always tell yourself that you have milestones that you want to hit on the way to your end goal,” Mafe said. “I’m about to get drafted, and I figured the Senior Bowl is the first one, then the combine, then his pro day, then his interviews. So I just keep taking those steps and making my best one foot forward every chance I get.”
When Mafe described his approach to studying and preparing for filmmaking during his combined interview, he sounded like someone who had internalized the lessons of a year spent in an unfamiliar city in his youth.
“You have to be a humble player who can adapt to your surroundings,” he said. “You might come up with a game plan on how to attack an attacking tackle, and maybe it doesn’t work the way you thought it would. Then you have to be able to adjust by coming up with a different plan of attack. “
As for that intensity along the Minnesota and Senior Bowl sidelines?
“I just try to find what is authentically me: to keep people’s spirits up,” he said. “The energy of the room can be a big influence. I just try to get everyone moving in the right direction.”
Mafe has come a long way from the little annoyance that may or may not have ruined some walls growing up. He’s not even really a wrestling fan anymore, although he admits he was thrilled when he arrived at the University of Minnesota to learn that his strength coach had been John Cena’s primary mentor when the future Peacemaker was a lowly D-III offensive lineman.
So when he gets big in the NFL, will he be tempted to pull the strings and get Cena’s autograph? Mafe laughs at the question.
“One day I’m going to cash in on this and ask for one,” he said.
Pro Day News and Notes
The latest set of on-campus pro days wraps up this week when LSU prospects take to the field in Baton Rouge on Wednesday and USC’s Drake London performs his bonus individual practice on Tuesday. After that, pretty much everything you hear about the upside or downside outlook is basically bullsnot.
Oh, that’s not quite true. Injuries and arrests unfortunately still happen, and reports of a 4.23s 40 at Prairie Nowhere State can take a while to filter through the scout and draft communities. Genuine insider reports of team preferences are leaked, though every honest report comes with at least half a dozen smokescreens. But mostly, the next month is all about the hype and news “Prospect A visited Team B”, which is just a load of work for beat writers and hamster balls for rubes who don’t don’t realize that there’s no correlation between team visits and eventual draft picks.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a final look from the field at some of this year’s top prospects and late-round prospects.
Purdue Pro Day
David Bell fell from the FO 40 and slid down our skill-based Fantasy 40 after running a 4.69s 40-yard sprint on Purdue’s pro day. Bell also clocked a time of 4.65 seconds at the reconnaissance combine.
Yes, Bell has an awesome movie. Yes, it was freezing last week in East Lafayette, where prospects ran their sprints on an outdoor track. And yes, Bell could join the roster of wide receivers with lackluster 40s who thrived in the NFL: Cooper Kupp, Anquan Boldin, Jarvis Landry and others. But prospects such as Kupp and Boldin were clearly 4.5 runners who ran poorly at the combine. Bell continues to demonstrate that he can be a 4.65 runner all the time. In a draft brimming with catcher talent, he looks more like a Day 3 pick than the first-round pick he was drafted at the end of the 2021 college season.
In better news from Boilermakers, burly running back Zander Horvath pressed 31 reps, which would have been tied for second-best result at any combine position. Horvath’s 4.57s dash on a slow track on a cold day wasn’t disastrous for a 230-pound bruiser projected as a late-round pick.
Horvath’s sizzle reel resembles Mike Alstott’s cosplay, but he missed part of the 2021 season with a broken fibula and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. His style of cement truck racing doesn’t quite fit the modern NFL. Still, Horvath could adapt to a Shanahan-style attack as a fullback or play a Samaje Perine-type role as a stump grinder in a committee backfield.
Florida State Professional Day
Jermaine Johnson threw 27 bench press reps in Tallahassee last week, rounding out his already impressive sports portfolio at the combine. But Johnson does NOT want to hear about the impact this might have had on his stock project:
“I think this stuff is rat poison,” Johnson said on his pro day. “I don’t like watching it. If my agent wants to watch that stuff, he can. But I don’t watch it. I keep my head down, I work and I train.”
Wise decision. The top boards under Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are in flux, with David Ojabo’s injury on the pro day hurting his stock and players such as Mafe steadily increasing since the Senior Bowl. It’s hard to filter out the signal noise for a player like Johnson who looked like a late first-round pick in December and hasn’t moved back and forth since.
Johnson remains a top A-tier prospect stuck in a draft with at least two top S-tier prospects.
Western Kentucky Professional Day
Quarterback Bailey Zappe received kudos for his strong performance in windy conditions last week at Bowling Green.