The product of patience has been proven to Justin Ademilola.
The defensive ends that peaked before him at Notre Dame went through their own growing processes that didn’t always lead to instant results. Observing that allowed Ademilola to never lose faith that a breakout season will eventually come.
“Over the years I learned to keep your head down and continue to work,” Ademilola said. “I was behind guys like Julian (Okwara), Khalid (Kareem), Ade (Ogundeji), Daelin (Hayes). They told me just keep working every day. Stack your successful days and get one percent better every day. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
The now 6-foot-2, 255-pound Ademilola started to tap into his potential and put it on display as a rotational defensive end last season. He might not crack the starting lineup consistently as a senior in 2021, but the opportunities to make an impact should be there.
“One thing about Justin is he’s a pretty smart player,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “When we look at him last year when he got his opportunities, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. You’re not going to boot or run a naked (bootleg) on him. He’s going to be upfield in the right position on reverses. He’s really gap conscious.”
In 12 games, Ademilola tallied 17 tackles — the same number as starting defensive end Daelin Hayes and starting defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. But with more opportunities, Hayes and Tagovailoa-Amosa were more disruptive in the backfield with six tackles for a loss each and 5.5 sacks combined.
All of Ademilola’s tackles for a loss (2.5) and sacks (one) came in two games: a four-tackle performance against Georgia Tech and a three-tackle effort against North Carolina. Those are the kind of plays the Irish want to see more of from Ademilola.
“We want him obviously to cut it loose a little bit more,” Kelly said. “He’ll be given that opportunity in the role that he’s in now that he’s going to be getting more reps.”
A successful transition to defensive end for Tagovailoa-Amosa will likely prevent Ademilola from becoming the full-time starter in new coordinator Marcus Freeman’s defense. But Ademilola recognizes the benefits of a rotation to stay fresh.
“It’s been awesome getting the opportunity to work with Myron,” Ademilola said. “We’re both playing D-end this year, and it’s going to be a crazy 1-1, 1a, 1b, punch right there. Stay tuned for that one.”
Last season was the first at Notre Dame in which Ademilola registered more tackles than his twin brother, Jayson. That’s in large part due to Jayson Ademilola, who finished with 11 tackles, missing three games with a knee injury.
The move of Tagovailoa-Amosa to defensive end could mean Jayson Ademilola jumps back into the production lead. But the twin brothers don’t compare stats, Justin Ademilola said.
“I’m just trying to prove myself right that I’m supposed to be here,” Justin Ademilola said. “I’m grinding every day and working to be on top, because I know what type of player I am. When I’m on the field, people know what type of player I am.”
Some evaluators considered Jayson Ademilola the more coveted recruit when the two were at Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep. Most schools offered both twins scholarships, but Ohio State offered only Jayson Ademilola. Rivals and 247Sports both slated Jayson Ademilola as a four-star recruit and Justin Ademilola as a three-star recruit.
Does that mean Justin Ademilola was underrated? He’ll need more production to prove he deserved a fourth star. What better time than now.
“If people think I’m under the radar this year or in the shadows, you guys are going to feel me this year on the field,” Justin Ademilola said. “We’ll see.”