TAMPA — Young Jude Adjei-Barimah, new to the United States and only 10 years old, surprised his father one day with a bold announcement.
"He stood in front of me and said, 'I'm not going to play soccer again. I love this game of football, and it's what I'm going to do,' " recalled Samuel Adjei, who was born in Ghana and grew up with soccer, knowing little of American football.
" 'You are too skinny! This game is not for you,' " responded his father, whose knowledge of American football from watching on TV was "all these big men pounding back and forth." "He said, 'I will be able to make it. All I need is your support.' "
Thirteen years later, that skinny boy is now a 200-pound man and still very much doing things people say he should not be doing. As an undrafted rookie from Bowling Green, the cornerback has not only found a place on the Bucs roster, but Sunday he moved into a starting role and had six tackles in a loss to the Giants.
"This is something I've wanted to do all my life," said Adjei-Barimah (ODGE-ay bah-REEM-uh), born and raised in Italy, where his father's job took the family from west Africa. "They've supported me throughout. They never thought it would get this big, but it's been an experience for them. I can't wait for them to experience their first NFL game."
Samuel and his wife, Agartha, have embraced their son's sport. This weekend they'll fly to Tampa for their first NFL game, proud parents and unabashed football fans.
"As a father, to demonstrate my support, I was forced to love it," Samuel said. "Now I have grown to love it more. Now I watch it more than anything."
"We are very excited, very honored and very proud of Jude for how far he's been able to go."
Even as undrafted rookies go, Adjei-Barimah was a long shot to make the NFL. Unsigned for three months after the draft, he joined Tampa Bay the day after rookies reported for training camp.
"He got here a day after everybody else was here," coach Lovie Smith says. " 'Hey, we need another slot for a DB. There's this Jude guy.' We worked out a couple of guys, and we liked what we saw then."
Adjei-Barimah had only two tackles in the preseason and was among the final cuts, but he earned a spot on the practice squad. After a month on the practice squad, he was promoted to the 53-man roster, where his role has steadily grown over the past five games.
He played a single defensive snap in each of his first two games, got his first tackle on special teams in kickoff coverage in his third game and showed enough promise in a struggling secondary to earn his first start Sunday, playing all but two snaps.
"Early on in camp, I was able to show some good things and gain confidence that I could compete here," he said. "Once that happened, it's just putting more hours than everybody else, studying the defense. … But that was nothing for me, because this was my goal."
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Adjei-Barimah wasn't a full-time starter at Bowling Green until his fifth year, having bounced from corner to safety to nickel and back to corner. His position coach remembers how well he learned the game and helped himself with his intelligence on the field.
"The thing that separates Jude from everybody else is he is so football smart," Bowling Green assistant Nick Monroe said. "That guy could see things out there. He'd come off to the sidelines and could tell you exactly what (opponents) were running, what depth receivers were breaking, what the quarterback's cadence was.
"He was a film junkie, could call routes out before the snap. His football instincts were second to none. I don't know if we've ever had a kid that was that intelligent from a football standpoint."
In the past two weeks, Adjei-Barimah has unseated established NFL veterans, his play good enough that the Bucs released two-time Pro Bowl corner Tim Jennings this week. Adjei-Barimah said his fellow cornerbacks have taught him much.
"It's been huge," he said. "Them helping me, taking me under their wing, teaching me week to week, coaching me off the film and on the field, it's been a real big help in my development."
Bucs fans are just now learning his name, and teammates his story. Smith, told of Adjei-Barimah's international roots and his start in soccer, said there are telltale signs of his father's sport in his game.
"If you want to prepare to be a cornerback, there's no better sport than soccer: quickness, good feet, all of that," Smith said. "That doesn't surprise me.
"His story is something. He keeps his mouth shut, has good corner skills. He's earned everything he's gotten. We couldn't be happier having him here, and he has a bright future ahead of him."