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Football has always been a big part of life with the Idowu family. Clockwise, from top left, Lola, Nelson, Dayo, Ayo and Bayo Idowu.

A football family: Sport more than a game in Idowu household

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Growing up in Nigeria, Nelson Idowu didn't discover football until he was in college. However, he grew to love the game and passed on his passion to his three sons - Ayo, Bayo and Dayo.

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Now, the sport has helped the Idowu brothers grow from boys to men.

All standouts on the football field their whole lives, Ayo, Bayo and Dayo Idowu continue to play what they each call their No. 1 sport. Ayo is a 6-2, 265-pound senior defensive lineman at the University of St. Thomas. Dayo is a 6-2, 200-pound sophomore linebacker at the University of North Dakota. Bayo is a 6-0, 200-pound senior running back and linebacker at East Ridge High School.

Though each has had success on the field, it's the life lessons their sons have learned playing the game that is most important to Nelson and Lola Idowu. They are the type of parents who still make their children say "Mr." and "Mrs." and "please" and "thank you."

"I think sports have taught them responsibility, taught them to be accountable for their actions, and respect," said the soft-spoken Nelson. "You have to respect your teammates, coaches and your opponent. If you don't have an opponent, there's no game."

Lola, a sincere and very kind woman but the type of mom you probably don't want to mess with, said she feels that sports helped her kids focus and taught them discipline. She said they all understand school comes first.

"We always tell them they're going to be a student-athlete, not an athlete-student," Lola said. "Football has helped them with their academics, too, because they know if they don't do well, they're not going to play football. That has been a great thing to encourage them."

Ayo Idowu graduated Woodbury High School in 2009. Now a business major at St. Thomas, he earned All-Conference honors as a senior for the Royals. In addition to starring on the field, Ayo was an honor student and class president at Woodbury. Dayo - an All-Conference player too - graduated from East Ridge High School in 2011 and is majoring in chemical engineering at UND. Ayo is playing on scholarship at St. Thomas and Dayo earned a full-ride to North Dakota. Bayo said he would also like to follow his brothers' footsteps and play college football.

"I'm really proud of the young men they've become," Lola Idowu said. "Since kindergarten my kids have known that college is not optional, it's a rule, you have to go to college. The only thing that's optional is their major and what college they're going to go to."

Nelson and Lola Idowu were both born in Nigeria, but didn't meet until each of them lived in the United States, in 1980, when they were college students. While at Purdue University, Nelson - a good soccer player in his day - became fond of the Boilermakers football team. Then, while living in Chicago, he became a fan of the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Bears - which is still the case today.

When Nelson and Lola moved to Minnesota, they first lived in Woodbury. Then, they moved to Oakdale - where the boys grew up - until the family moved back to Woodbury before the brothers started high school. Nelson coached the boys when they were young and stayed involved with their football careers through high school. Now, he likes to sit back - alongside Lola - and watch his youngest son Bayo finish his high school career with the Raptors.

Nelson said being a part of the boys football journey is one of the things he holds most precious.

"Oh boy, I wouldn't trade it for any other thing," Nelson said. "I'm so happy that I was there for them when they needed me the most. I'm so happy to still be there for them."

Dayo said having your dad as a coach has its positives and negatives, but he's happy Nelson has been involved in his football career.

"It was really cool being with my dad a lot and have him coach me," Dayo said. "When your dad is your coach you can't get away with as much. It had its consequences, but definitely more benefits. It's cool to see him come to our games. Now it's not just from the little park to park, or from high school to high school, it's traveling around the country watching us all play."

As one would imagine, there is a lot of football playing and discussion when the Idowu brothers all get together, like they often did this summer in Woodbury, before Dayo journeyed to Grand Forks, ND.

"We talk about everything brothers do," Dayo said. "We're just big sports fans, but we do talk a lot about football. There's a lot of competition between us."

With Ayo just down the road in St. Paul, Bayo said he still hangs out with his oldest brother often and gets the opportunity to many of his games at St. Thomas.

"It's one of the things that brings us together I'd say," Bayo said. "All the time when we're together - over the summer or when they're on winter breaks if there's not too much snow on the ground. Dayo played a little quarterback, so we'll throw the ball around more than with Ayo, but it's definitely something we all do."

The sport of football formed a bond, but also a new level of healthy competition between the brothers.

Lola likes to tell the story of the first person to tackle Ayo. When just a little pee-wee football player, Ayo was dominant. Bigger and stronger than most boys, he was nearly impossible to bring down. However, at one practice, one of his teammates took him to the ground - his younger brother Dayo.

"That's when the competition started in my house," Lola said. "The head coach then, was shocked. Boy, was Ayo ever upset - he was mad. And then Dayo started running his mouth. There's been a competition ever since."

Though they're all competitive, Bayo and Dayo said they each wanted to play football because Ayo did.

"My brother introduced us to sports," Dayo said. "I always wanted to be like him, but it got to a point where I wanted to beat him. We definitely looked up to him."

As the youngest Idowu boy, Bayo said he "was born into" playing football. But, he's happy about it.

"Football has taught me to be disciplined and has helped me a lot in the outside world," he said. "It just has helped me learn how to deal with things and has taught me about teamwork and how to work with others."

Dayo also said playing football alongside his brothers and the guidance of his parents and coaches have taught him lessons that extend beyond the field.

"In football there are going to be times things don't go your way, but you don't want to dwell on it," he said. "You want to use it as motivation and focus on the future. I'm just grateful I had this opportunity to play football, especially at this higher level and live this life every day."

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