Osayi Osunde, full of speed and fury, has earned a reputation as the leader of Villanova's defense.

The 6-foot-1, 245-pound outside linebacker is a punisher of ball carriers who is fast enough to cover running backs in the flat.

Those who see him on the Main Line campus know they are looking at a football player. But he is much more than that.

He graduated from Central Columbia High School in Bloomsburg, Pa., at 16. Now 21, the Nigerian immigrant has an undergraduate degree in psychology. He is pursuing a master's degree in human-resource development.

Osunde is the youngest of Awawu Osunde's four sons. When Villanova plays, he writes F-A-M on the tape around his wrist to honor his mother and siblings.

"I don't play football for the glory," said the fifth-year senior, who is a Sports Network preseason all-American. "I play for my family.

"I play to get somewhere. I play to take my family out of the situation that we've been in for the last 10 to 15 years."

His mother struggled to pay the bills after her husband, Egerton, an African history professor at Bloomsburg University, died of sickle-cell disease in 1998.

To help their mother, Osunde and his brothers, Isoken, 29, Uyi, 28, and Osagie, 25, worked part-time jobs in high school.

Osunde remembers times when the family's water and other utilities were cut off.

"You had to look through the couch for pennies," he said. "It wasn't easy."

Through it all, the pursuit of education kept the brothers focused. For the Osundes, that always came first.

Their father used to commute back and forth from Nigeria while teaching at Ohio State University. He got a teaching job at Bloomsburg when Osunde was 2, and moved his family to Pennsylvania.

Osunde's mother had brief stints as an elementary and middle school teacher. She later received a master's degree in radiology.

"To get anywhere in America, you have to work hard," said Osunde, who graduated from Villanova with a 3.39 grade point average. "You have to be smart. That's probably one of the biggest things we learned from my father when he was around, especially from my mother."

A fierce football player, Osunde learned from his brothers always to play until the whistle.

Uyi was a defensive end at Connecticut who played briefly with the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. Osagie was a running back at West Chester.

Osunde is beginning his third season as a starting linebacker for the Wildcats. He led the team in tackles the last two seasons. He heads into his final campaign with 160 career stops, 31/2 sacks, and two interceptions.

"He's a tremendous role model for our team, an all-American football player and an all-American student," coach Andy Talley said.

He also is the face of what is expected to be a dominant team.

Villanova returns 15 starters from a squad that went 10-3, including 7-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association. The season ended with a heartbreaking 31-27 loss to James Madison in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) quarterfinal.

The Wildcats will open the season Thursday against Temple in the inaugural Mayor's Cup game at Lincoln Financial Field before starting their Division I-AA schedule.

The opportunity to win a national title is not the reason Osunde plays football for Villanova.

"I was probably better in track and field," said Osunde, the Nike Outdoor Nationals javelin champion as a high school senior. "But football was the easiest way to get a full scholarship.

"This entire gig about football and education has constantly been about my family. Like I said before, we were struggling.

"But now that everyone has grown up . . . we are going to be fine."