Notre Dame DE commit NaNa Osafo-Mensah learns lessons at The Opening Finals

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

NaNa Osafo-Mensah did what he was told.

One of the coaches at The Opening Finals wanted to see if he could overpower four-star offensive tackle Evan Neal. It didn’t work.

As soon as Osafo-Mensah, a Notre Dame defensive end commit, tried to push through the 6-foot-7, 360-pound Neal, he was met with plenty of resistance. Neal sat back and halted Osafo-Mensah’s pass rush.

“I learned that I need to get stronger,” said the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Osafo-Mensah. “I can tell you that. On that last rep against Neal from IMG (Academy), the coach was telling me, ‘Hey, speed outside and then power him in.’

“So I did it, but when I hit him it felt like I was hitting a brick wall. I’m not going to lie about that.”

The holes in Osafo-Mensah’s game were exposed at times against some of the best offensive tackle recruits in the country at The Opening Finals. He needs to get stronger and improve his ability to shed blocks.

But he has also flashed the potential that has Notre Dame’s coaching staff so excited about having him committed in the 2019 class. He’s elusive and hard to stay in front of for offensive linemen.

“His win-loss record in one-on-ones isn’t going to be eye-catching or what he wanted it to be,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong, “but he still showed the traits of why he was here and is among the top defensive ends in the country. He’s twitchy off the edge, is physical and willing to engage and is a high-motor kid. He can evolve into a good player at Notre Dame. He’s still raw and developing physically.”

Osafo-Mensah lost most of his reps against Neal, the No. 6 offensive tackle in the country per 247Sports. He had a rough go against No. 15 offensive tackle Jonah Tauanu’u too. His best reps came against No. 7 offensive tackle Kenyon Green.

In consecutive pass rushes, Osafo-Mensah beat Green — first with speed to the outside and then with a quick move to the inside.

“He didn’t get any gimmes really. Not that there’s many gimmes here anyway,” Wiltfong said. “They’re certainly an upper-echelon group. I saw him consistently going up against the elite tackles. Even if he lost the rep, he was never overwhelmed. He’s a guy that Notre Dame will be able to get a pass rush from. He’s a guy that can push the pocket and will be tough and physical against the run too.”

Osafo-Mensah was thankful for the learning experience. With the event held at the Dallas Cowboys practice facility in Frisco, Texas, he didn’t have to travel very far. But he plans to take the lessons he learned back to Fort Worth (Texas) Nolan Catholic.

“The thing that I really like about this is being able to do what I do and seeing all the other defensive ends, I can go back and coach up my defensive line too,” Osafo-Mensah said. “I know we always emphasize how important pass rush is. I’m going to go back and teach my team that.”

Osafo-Mensah has been committed to Notre Dame since May. The Irish added a pair of linebackers to the class in June — four-star recruit Osita Ekwonu and three-star recruit Jack Kiser — as the defense solidified itself as the strength of the class.

“It’s awesome. I love it,” Osafo-Mensah said. “The really cool thing about it is that every single time we’ve had a commit, we have a little group chat on our Snapchat and we always talk to each other. We talk about everything whether it’s like school, how we’re going to be rooming together at Notre Dame, talking about family and everything.

“Even though we’re not together on the team, we’re already really close together and trust each other. The future will be really good for us.”

If Osafo-Mensah is really close with his future teammates, he has likely told them the story of his haircut mishap. He recently cut off his dreads and let his mom experiment with some texture softener in his hair. Apparently, she left it in too long and it gave him straight hair. Osafo-Mensah’s girlfriend disapproved, and now he’s settled on a simple short haircut.

Osafo-Mensah said he’s also in frequent contact with defensive line coach Mike Elston, defensive coordinator Clark Lea and head coach Brian Kelly.

“We all four talk a lot together, just checking in on each other, talking about recruiting other players and everything like that,” Osafo-Mensah said. “We just keep in touch always. They always ask about my family, ask how I’m doing in school. It’s that communication that’s made us really close together.”

The next time Osafo-Mensah visits Notre Dame will likely be for the Stanford game in late September. He said he’s completely shut down his communication with other schools.

He’s focused on preparing for a big senior year and readying himself for the challenges at Notre Dame. That’s why he went to The Opening Finals in the first place.

“I know that going to college is not going to be like high school. The competition is going to be 100 times what it is now,” Osafo-Mensah said. “When I get there, I’m looking forward to going against a ton of better talent, a ton of dogs out there. Being out here in The Opening is giving me a little sneak peak to what I’m going to be coming up to.”

Four-star defensive end Nana Osafo-Mensah announced his commitment to Notre Dame last Saturday, but he had been privately committed since April.
Osafo- Mensah