Tolu Ahmed, a six-feet-three-inches powerful defensive back, has been a valuable asset to the University of Toronto Blues men’s football team since 2018, putting in hard and consistent work as a student athlete both on and off the field. 

Throughout the past five years, Ahmed has been a dedicated and goal-driven athlete who has worked incredibly hard to achieve his goals and get to where he is today — an official invitee to the 2023 Canadian Football League (CFL) National Combine. 

Amid his busy training schedule, Ahmed sat down with The Varsity to discuss his life on and off the pitch, as well as his plans to prepare for the 2023 CFL National Combine.

High school experience

Ahmed grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, and attended École secondaire catholique Pierre-Savard. Before becoming a football star, he played basketball, but when he transferred schools halfway through high school, there was a transfer rule in place that prevented him from playing basketball in his transfer year. 

At the time, Ahmed’s best friend was playing football at the school and he decided to give it a try, since he couldn’t play basketball. “It just stuck, I kind of just never left the field, and I’ve been playing ever since.”

University experience 

Attending U of T gave Ahmed the opportunity to flourish as a student athlete and explore not one, but two of his passions in life: football and art. 

Ahmed is a fifth-year visual arts student and is an avid artist. When the COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in Ontario University Athletics canceling sports from October 2020 to March 2021, Ahmed delved deeper into the craft: “I got better and when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, I didn’t have much to do, so I started honing in on my art.”

“Not to sound corny, but it’s my escape from reality,” said Ahmed. 

Art is one of Tolu’s many talents./COURTESY OF TOLU AHMED

The Blues’ brotherhood 

Ahmed said that his favourite part about playing football is the brotherhood that comes with it and how this pushes him to achieve excellence daily. 

“We are all working for a common goal: to win,” he said. “Achieving this is what I play for.”

Ahmed excelled in the 2021 season, which ultimately set him up for success and his place at the combine. He finished third on the Blues in the regular season with 29 tackles, four pass break ups, and a forced fumble. 

Over the past five years, Ahmed has created memories that he will carry with him forever. However, making the playoffs for the first time in 2021 is his favourite.

“It was a testament to how hard our team worked day in and day out, and how far we came since my first year at U of T,” said Ahmed. 

He described his university experience at U of T as a good one, and that he was surprised that the time had gone by so fast. He reminisced on good times, while at the same time expressed excitement for what lay ahead. 

Invite to the CFL Regional Combine 

The Varsity Blues’ Twitter announced that Ahmed, along with four of his teammates, were invited to the 2023 CFL Combine on February 7.

“When I got the invite for the combine, I felt good,” Ahmed said. “It was reassuring to finally get some good feedback for all the hard work I’ve been putting in.” 

The CFL Regional Combine, also referred to as the invitational, is a smaller combine that tests players’ physical and mental abilities to analyze whether or not they are able to play at the national level.

When asked how he trains for a combine at this level, Ahmed said he believes it is more mental than anything else. “I feel like if you’ve been invited to this, you’re supposed to be there, you’ve shown enough physically to even warrant the invite.”

“I try to surround myself with good vibes and people that I know have my best interest at hand,” Ahmed said. 

He is also into meditating, which he says is a good way to keep his mental health together. “I try to do it as much as I can, to just lock in and ignore all that extra noise.” 

One thing he was hoping to showcase the most going into the combine was his competitiveness. “I’m still quite young in my football career, so I know that I can improve in every aspect of my game, and I just feel like my competitiveness is what separates me from other players.”

National combine 

On March 3, Ahmed was one of the 12 players to advance from the CFL invitational combine to the national combine. The defensive back put up a 4.60 second 40 yard and a 10 feet, 3 and 3/8 inches broad jump; he placed second and third in those respective tests. 

Ahmed is one step closer to his goals, and his positive attitude and passion for football will get him where he deserves to be. 

“It feels good to be recognized for the work I put in with my teammates, but it makes me want to go that much harder and prove to myself what I’m capable of,” said Ahmed. 

In preparation for the National Combine, he has been training with Elite Combine Prep, which is a team of trainers that have helped Ahmed during his offseason.

Looking ahead 

After university, Ahmed has many goals for himself pertaining to his passions in life — football and art.  

“I definitely got some goals in mind for football and art, but I’ve learnt that things rarely go exactly the way I plan,” he said. “I’m just gonna keep putting in the work and see where I end up.”

The CFL National Combine is set to take place in Edmonton from March 22 to 26. 

Keep up with Ahmed on his socials to watch his journey to the combine and support his passions for both football and art.