Elite DE recruit Oluwole Betiku set for Notre Dame visit

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

To see Oluwole Betiku is to be impressed.

The senior defensive end recruit has a physical maturity that often confuses those who meet him. When standing next to NFL defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at The Opening this summer, Betiku didn’t look out of place.

When CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming first met the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Betiku at a gathering of recruits, he thought he was meeting a coach.

“He’s a real muscular, impressive-looking kid,” Lemming said. “He looks like (Notre Dame linebacker) Jaylon Smith does now, not like Jaylon did out of high school.”

This weekend, Notre Dame will be the one trying to overwhelm with a first impression. Betiku will make his first trip to South Bend for an official visit.

Betiku’s physical prowess is only trumped by his ascension as one of the top defensive end recruits in the country in only two seasons of organized football. He was discovered as a 15-year-old at a summer camp in Nigeria by former Maryland running back Ricardo Dickerson. Soon after Betiku left his family to pursue football and education in the United States.

Former NFL linebacker LaVar Arrington became his legal guardian and enrolled Betiku as a sophomore at Baltimore’s Bishop McNamara. A year later, the two moved to California, and Betiku joined the football team at Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra, a powerhouse program known for producing college players.

Betiku’s junior season at Serra was his first season of football. He finished it with 11.5 sacks. In the past year Betiku has received scholarship offers from most of the best football programs in the country. Now he’s left trying to identify his college choice in the next few months. He’s had a lot to learn.

“I just thought football was football back in the day,” Betiku said. “Now I want to make the best choice academic-wise and football-wise. I don’t want to make a mistake with it.”

Having grown up in Nigeria, Betiku didn’t have any ties to colleges. Many assumed Penn State would be a major contender because of Arrington, but that hasn’t been the case. Betiku said he doesn’t have a favorite college football or NFL team.

“I just watch every game and learn from the best players on the field,” Betiku said. “The color of your jersey doesn’t matter. It’s about what you’re going to make out of the opportunity you’re given as a person. Wherever I go to, I’ll just adapt, play ball and make the best out of it.”

Few have adapted to anything as well as Betiku has developed as a football player. His studies of NFL defensive end Cameron Wake and linebacker Aldon Smith have made him a better pass rusher. Through 10 games of Betiku’s senior season, he recorded 62 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks.

247Sports slates Betiku as a five-star prospect, the No. 1 weakside defensive end and No. 6 regardless of position in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a four-star recruit, the No. 4 strongside defensive end and No. 36 overall.

Lemming gave Betiku four-and-a-half stars.

“He can get around the edge and he has a quick first step,” Lemming said, “but he’s not a real flexible guy. That said, he dominated his league last year. He has the ability to make an impact as a freshman.”

Notre Dame’s well-documented struggles finding a pass rush may lessen the weight of that statement, but the Irish aren’t the only ones pitching early playing time to Betiku. Texas A&M, Florida State, UCLA and USC are all saying similar things.

Betiku originally offered his verbal commitment to the Bruins in August. But it lasted less than three months. He decided to withdraw his commitment as he visited other schools.

“I never took any trips out of the state,” Betiku said. “I never really knew if I could fit other places. I only met coaches and saw the schools from the pictures on the websites. I just wanted to go to the schools in person and go open-minded and take the recruiting process slow.

“Patience is everything. I have to be patient to make sure I find the right fit and I’ve weighed all my options before making a decision for a lifetime. I believe the decision I make today is going to affect the future. I just have to approach it with the right mindset and take my time with it.”

Betiku made official visits to Florida State and Texas A&M in October. He returned to Texas A&M last weekend for an unofficial visit. On Wednesday, Betiku visited USC. He’s also considering trips to Florida and Arizona State.

This weekend’s visit to Notre Dame has been in the works for quite some time. Irish associate head coach Mike Denbrock convinced Betiku that he needed to see Notre Dame in person. Betiku hoped to visit in October for the USC game, but quickly set his focus on Saturday’s game against Wake Forest.

“Taking my first official visit made me realize that you can’t really know about a school until you step a foot on campus,” Betiku said. “You get to meet with the players, the coaches and see their home and everything. Going to Notre Dame, I’m going open-minded. I know what the school is about, but I want to see everything for myself.”

Betiku said he’s watched three Notre Dame games this season. He’s impressed that the Irish have placed themselves in contention for the College Football Playoff. More importantly, Notre Dame never stopped recruiting him. The coaching staff will get another chance to impress this weekend.

“That’s a blessing to have Notre Dame recruiting you when they’re No. 4 and they’re still calling me and wanting me to take the trip,” Betiku said. “Even when I was committed to UCLA, Notre Dame kept recruiting me. Coach Mike kept talking to me. They didn’t stop talking to me because I was committed, so that’s why I really want to make this trip and meet the coaching staff.”

VISITORS LIST

The following recruits are expected to attend Saturday’s game.

2016 targets

DE Oluwole Betiku

WR Damian Alloway

2016 commits

DE Khalid Kareem

S D.J. Morgan

DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji

2017 targets

DT Jerron Cage

QB Avery Davis

DE Corey Malone-Hatcher

2017 commits

OL Dillan Gibbons

TE Cole Kmet

2016 prospects

RB Ryan Velez

OL Chris Wittler

2017 prospects

WR Cedric Benton

WR Trey Blount

CB D.J. Brown

LB Joshua Daids

OL Sam Gerak

S Stuart Head

LB Derrick Hubbard

WR Mac Hippenhammer

DB Anthony Humm

DE Joshua Maize

DL Jordan Murphy

LB Trey Pugh

DE Rutger Reitmaier

OL Turner Ruby

OL Robi Stuart

2018 prospect

DT P.J. Mustipher

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame DE target Oluwole Betiku listens to NFL defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at The Opening. (Photo courtesy of Nike)