As an assistant football coach at Phoebus High School in the late 1990s, Stan Sexton was struck by Nathaniel Adibi. And not just because Adibi was a state-champion shot-putter and highly recruited defensive end.
“Very bright, extremely polite, always had a smile on his face,” Sexton said. “He was just one that really enjoyed being around people. … He’s always been that way. If you ever needed anything, he was there to help.”
No surprise there. Abiodun and Leanne Adibi infused their children with the spirits of public service and education — a soccer and tennis athlete in his native Nigeria, Abiodun is a Hampton University biology professor — and expected honors grades.
Yet for all of Nathaniel’s people skills and outreach, no one at Phoebus, or anyone in the Adibi family for that matter, envisioned him in law enforcement. After all, residential property management is not exactly the typical college major for a future federal agent.
Indeed, law enforcement found Adibi, a four-year starter at Virginia Tech from 2000-03 and a second-team All-Big East selection as a junior and senior.
A fender-bender was the trigger, leading Adibi first to the Hampton Police Department and then the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms in Houston.
His own NFL dreams dashed by a broken hip, Adibi ventured to Houston in 2008 when the NFL’s Texans drafted his brother, Xavier, an All-ACC linebacker at Virginia Tech. En route to the airport one day to pick up Xavier, Nathaniel and some friends were rear-ended by an unmarked van.
“Undercover FBI,” the van’s driver told them.
Something clicked. Nathaniel asked how to secure FBI work, and the agent provided a phone number.
Before long, Adibi returned to Hampton, sought advice from a family neighbor on the force and commenced training. Still, as he patrolled his hometown’s streets, often solo, breaking up bar fights, resolving domestic arguments and issuing traffic citations, Adibi aspired to work at the federal level, preferably in his wife’s native Houston.
His opportunity came in 2014.
“I loved them,” Adibi said of his two-plus years with Hampton Police. “It was definitely different, seeing things through a different lens. I got to learn a lot. One thing I definitely learned about being a police officer was, every day I’m dealing with other people’s issues. You have a different mindset because you don’t want to bring those issues into your home. So I had to learn, once the day is over, the day is over.”
Adibi spent six months at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Ga., where he was introduced to fields such as arson investigation. He likens ATF work to a detective’s and finds it more rewarding.
“Most of my cases with ATF, we deal with violent crimes and violent criminals,” Adibi said. “Selling and possession of firearms, robbery crews, gun stores being burglarized. … I’ve helped out on arson scenes, explosives scenes. … I deal with a lot more things — not that what I was doing (in Hampton) wasn’t beneficial — but that are on a bigger scale in my mind.”
The ATF’s Houston field division stretches from Galveston in the south to College Station in the north and is the nation’s largest, according to ATF spokeswoman Nicole Strong, and Adibi’s team is presently focused on gun store burglaries and firearms trafficking. He doesn’t go undercover but assists agents who do.
Much like police work, the job is high adrenaline, ideal for someone who can’t imagine himself tethered to a desk 40 hours a week. Still, Adibi feels safer than he did on a solo, light-night traffic stop, his head on a swivel.
Conversely, ATF agents frequently work in groups of 8-10.
“It has its moments,” Adibi said of ATF, “especially when we do arrest warrants. … One of my takedowns (we) actually had a helicopter in the air.”
The job’s occasional physical demands can be painful, courtesy of football. Adibi is 38, but his knees and shoulders scream 68.
As a dominant defensive end and bruising fullback, Adibi played both ways at Phoebus. He also competed in track, winning the state shot put title as a junior and placing second as a senior.
His high school football career, from 1995-98, coincided with rival Hampton’s four consecutive state championships, but “he was one of the main leaders (of the upturn) that really catapulted us forward,” Sexton said.
The Phantoms went 10-2 in Adibi’s final season — both losses were to Hampton — and three years later, with Xavier Adibi a leader, they won the first of their four state titles under Bill Dee.
Cancer took Dee in 2017 at age 63, but Nathaniel was unable to get home for the funeral. Similarly, “it’s been years” since he’s been to Virginia Tech, where he redshirted on the 1999 team that reached the national title game and started on four squads that went a combined 37-14 — his final collegiate game was a 2003 Insight Bowl loss to Cal and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Still, Adibi stays in touch with fellow Hokies such as Mikal Baaqee (dentist), Jim Davis (financial advisor) and David Clowney (retired NFL receiver), plus Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles and defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Brother Xavier is preparing for his first season as defensive coordinator at Division II Texas A&M-Commerce, about 300 miles north of Houston, and family friend Bobby Blizzard, a Hampton High graduate, is the running backs coach for Dallas’ new XFL franchise under former Oklahoma big whistle Bob Stoops.
Adibi’s wife of six years, Chastiny, works in Houston’s thriving medical industry, and the couple hopes to start a family in a few years. Until then, they plan to travel.
Adibi marvels at how many of his football friends are working in law enforcement. The group includes Tech alums Dave Kadela and Dan Wilkinson, and former Phoebus teammate Maurice Shanks.
“I feel like I’m making a difference,” Adibi said. “I feel like I can help people. And sometimes, people who are causing trouble, they need help. … It’s amazing what I’ve had a chance to do since I’ve been at ATF.”