Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah reacted as if the thought alone was exhausting.
The senior Notre Dame rover linebacker was asked to consider how much more he knows about playing the position one year after making his starting debut in the 2019 season opener.
“Woo, man,” Owusu-Koramoah said as he let the question sink in.
A lot has changed for Owusu-Koramoah since that Labor Day debut in Notre Dame’s 35-17 win over Louisville last season. At that point, Owusu-Koramoah had only played in two college football games in his first two years with the Irish.
The former three-star recruit out of Hampton (Va.) Bethel didn’t see the field as a freshman. His sophomore season ended with a broken foot after two games as a special teamer. But as a junior, a healthy Owusu-Koramoah was given the green light to take over a position that appeared to be tailor-made for him.
At its best, the rover, which is designed as a hybrid between linebacker and safety, should be able to play fast in space and be a nuisance in coverage and in the backfield. Owusu-Koramoah showed glimpses of that last season on the way to a tie for the team-high with 80 tackles and a team-high 13.5 tackles for a loss in addition to 5.5 sacks, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Not bad for a first-time starter. So what does year two as a starter look like?
“I got some disguises. I got some new tricks. I’m joking,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “This year I have more of a knowledge as far as play recognition, as far as post-snap and pre-snap things to correct. It’s been great.
“It’s an experience this year that will definitely change how people see me as far as a football player (and) as a person.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Owusu-Koramoah already did plenty of that last season. Dane Brugler, NFL Draft analyst for The Athletic, didn’t enter the 2019 season looking to scout Owusu-Koramoah. But when he watched Notre Dame play during the season, he kept an open mind to see if any player flashes. Owusu-Koramoah did that.
“He was one of those guys who I didn’t know much about at all,” Brugler said. “You could tell pretty quickly that there was something to him. It was one of those things where I didn’t study him, but I wrote his name down.
“This summer when I had a chance to sit down, study the tapes and see what he was doing, I was pretty impressed — more so than I thought I would be.”
So much so that when Brugler released his 2021 NFL Draft projections in August, he ranked Owusu-Koramoah as the third-best linebacker prospect and No. 32 overall in college football.
Brugler hasn’t been alone in the Owusu-Koramoah praise. Earlier this month, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. pegged Owusu-Koramoah as the No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 17 overall for the 2021 NFL Draft. In August, ESPN’s Todd McShay projected Owusu-Koramoah as the No. 13 overall pick in his 2021 mock draft.
“The athleticism really stands out,” Brugler said. “His ability to do a lot of different things with that athleticism and catch on quick to the coaching that he was getting — the athleticism and the football sense, those two things really stood out. That’s why he’s definitely on the NFL radar.”
Owusu-Koramoah didn’t pretend as if he was unaware of the praise coming his way during the offseason. But he tries to avoid letting it take over his focus.
“As far as the buzz that’s going around, you see it. All glory to God. I appreciate it,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “But at the end of the day, what’s important is here. What’s important is now. What’s important is this team and winning every day.”
Owusu-Koramoah will have a great impact on Notre Dame’s ability to win all season long including Saturday’s opener against Duke (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC). In last season’s 38-7 win at Duke, Owusu-Koramoah tallied six tackles, two pass breakups and 1.5 tackles for a loss.
Duke’s offense should be improved this year with Clemson transfer Chase Brice at quarterback. It also features a talented running back in Deon Jackson and Brugler’s top-ranked senior tight end, Noah Gray.
“Duke was a terrible passing team last year, but with Chase Brice now at quarterback that should change,” Brugler said. “This will be an interesting matchup for (Owusu-Koramoah) to show off that versatility against the run and then covering the tight end and doing some different things.”
Though some top NFL prospects have chosen to sit out this uncertain season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that option didn’t make much sense for Owusu-Koramoah to pursue. With only one year as a starter on his resume, he has plenty left to prove.
Last season was his chance to emerge. This season is an opportunity to solidify and even improve his draft stock.
“We know he has that acceleration where he’s going to shoot gaps,” Brugler said. “He has the range where he can make plays on the perimeter and show off that athleticism. But he could be a little more consistent in terms of moving in reverse, the zone instincts and showing up coverage and then stacking and shedding and using his length to get off blocks. That’s something where you can tell it’s a work in progress for him.”
Owusu-Koramoah enters the season with the confidence that comes with experience. The hesitation of an uncertain player should be gone by now. The thought of a comfortable Owusu-Koramoah may scare opposing offenses.
“With me being a two-year starter coming up this year, I’ve seen a lot of football,” Owusu-Koramoah. Said. “A lot of film has gone into this. Being comfortable is everything as far as being a game changer, as far as being a good teammate and as far as being a leader on this defense.”