After entering the NFL Draft this year, Lincoln H.S. alum Israel “Izzy” Abanikanda was taken by the N.Y. Jets as the NFL’s 143rd pick. For Izzy, it was a dream come true moment to make the NFL and to also play for the team that he grew up rooting for.
Before coming to Lincoln, an eighth-grade Abanikanda distinguished himself as a young star playing on the Brooklyn United youth football team in Crown Heights. As a freshman, he made the Lincoln varsity, and by his junior year in 2018 he was named as the Gatorade Player of the Year for New York State, which is awarded for athletic excellence and academic achievement. As a senior during the 2019 season, Abanikanda was the league’s leading scorer (150 points), and leading rusher (1,159 yards), as well as the leading scoring rusher with 19 touchdowns.
His high grades and football stats earned Abanikanda a full scholarship to Pitt where he went on to break Tony Dorsett’s 1976 single game touchdown record of 5 touchdowns and 303 yards against Notre Dame. His breakthrough game came in October 2022 against Virginia Tech, when the speedy back scored 6 touchdowns along with 320 rushing yards.
Looking back at his time at Lincoln, Coach Shawn O’Connor recalled, “Izzy was an honor student, and a very humble and quiet leader on the team who let his performance speak for him.” One particular football skill that always impressed O’Connor was his ability to find the open hole to gain long yardage.
“He has such great vision,” O’Connor said. “Izzy could see a hole on the line just about to open up and he’d shoot the gap and be downfield just like that.”
Profiling Abanikanda, O’Connor said, “Looking at him now, he was the youngest kid in the draft at 20 years old, and now he’s 217 pounds of all muscle and stands at 5 foot 11 inches.”
“We put together the kind of draft night party that Izzy wanted,” said O’Connor, who set up the school gym for the event and invited Abanikanda’s family and all of his supporters.
“I never thought that I would get so emotional over this, but I did,” O’Connor said. “I’ve had other kids make it to the NFL as unrestricted free agents, but this was a first to have one of my kids be drafted. What’s even better is he’s going to play right here at home in front of his friends and family.”
Looking ahead to the fall, O’Connor said, “It’s going to be great watching Izzy be a part of the Jets’ rebuilding process, especially when he takes handoffs from Aaron Rodgers.”