Leadership, work ethic make Notre Dame LB commit Osita Ekwonu special

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Nate Abraham scored as many touchdowns as Notre Dame linebacker commit Osita Ekwonu last Friday night.

When the 5-foot-6, 125-pound freshman wide receiver caught a long touchdown to cap a 67-0 victory for Charlotte (N.C.) Providence Day at Concord’s Cannon School, the entire Providence Day sideline went berserk.

The matchup didn’t require Ekwonu to carry too heavy of a load. The Chargers, sporting a roster with at least five Division I recruits, had more talent on their side.

Ekwonu, who cheered enthusiastically from the sidelines in the second half, enjoyed seeing all of his teammates getting in on the action.

“It's great,” Ekwonu said. “They do all the work that we do, whether they play that much or not. It's great to see all the hard work they did in the offseason pay off for them."

There haven’t been many good feelings for Ekwonu and Providence Day lately. The Chargers lost their first three games of the season. Head coach Adam Hastings scheduled tougher opponents than normal to test his team early. Though they lost the games, Hastings said he liked the way they handled adversity.

That had a lot to do with Ekwonu’s leadership.

“He did what leaders do,” Hastings said. “We scheduled tough. We had some injuries early. His brother was one of them. Our guys just believe in themselves. He was the guy that continued to keep people together as we got through that."

Providence Day recovered by winning its last two games by a 118-0 margin.

"It's definitely a great feeling seeing how great we can be and how much potential we have as a team,” Ekwonu said.

The potential to be great starts with Ekwonu, who plays both linebacker and running back for Providence Day. He recorded four tackles and scored an eight-yard touchdown on his only carry of the night against Cannon School. Through five games, he’s tallied 45 tackles and 153 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries.

Rivals ranks Ekwonu as the No. 9 inside linebacker in the 2019 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 17 inside linebacker. Both peg him as a four-star prospect.

Ekwonu’s twin brother Ikem, a three-star recruit committed to N.C. State, helps clear a path on the offensive line. In the junior class, Providence Day has a trio of four-star recruits: wide receiver Porter Rooks, defensive end Jacolbe Cowan and Florida defensive end commit Kedrick Bingley-Jones.

Notre Dame has already offered all three of Ekwonu’s star teammates in the 2020 class. He's putting in good words for Notre Dame.

"I'm trying,” Ekwonu said. “They've been sending me the mail they've been getting. I think they have some interest as well.”

At this point, only one thing appears certain: Ekwonu won’t be attending the same school as his twin brother.

Osita Ekwonu received national attention following his junior season. Ikem Ekwonu’s scholarship offers were mostly limited to the region surrounding North Carolina. They made many college visits together, but they each made their own decision. Osita committed on June 14. Ikem announced his N.C. State choice two days later.

“At one point, we wanted to go to the same school, but we realized it might not be a possibility,” Osita said. “We both want the best for each other. I'm happy for him. I'm happy that he's going to N.C. State, because I know he'll really enjoy it there."

If the two stay at Notre Dame and N.C. State for five years, they could take part in the next matchup between both teams in 2023.

Hastings has experience coaching talented brothers and Notre Dame recruits. Before taking the job at Providence Day, Hastings coached defensive ends Romeo and Julian Okwara and linebacker Prince Shembo at Ardrey Kell High School. All three ended up at Notre Dame with Julian Okwara still playing for the Irish as a junior.

“The one thing that all those guys had was their work ethic, determination and that desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Hastings said. “Osita has that. I have no doubt in my mind that he's going to flourish just like Romeo, Julian and Prince did."

Ekwonu has enjoyed watching Notre Dame’s 4-0 start. He attended the season opener against Michigan and hopes to return for the Florida State game in November. Naturally, the play of the defense caught his eye.

“Getting a chance to watch Te'von Coney, in person especially, just how he takes control of the whole defense on the field is amazing to watch," Ekwonu said.

The Michigan game was Ekwonu’s second game visit at Notre Dame. He attended the 49-14 Irish victory over USC last season as well.

“The energy was pretty much the same,” Ekwonu said. “The stadium was engaged the whole time. It was a lot of fun."

With recruiting concerns out of the way, Ekwonu has been focused on a number of improvements as a player. He sped through a to-do list for his senior season.

"Defensively, definitely getting off blocks, going downhill, wrapping up, staying low on the tackle and driving my feet. That's my main focus on defense,” Ekwonu said. “Offensively, just not letting one person tackle me on the defense. I want to make it as hard as I can for the defense to stop me."

He keeps in contact with Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea while seeking out contact on the football field.

“I like hitting people,” Ekwonu said, “regardless of what side of the ball I'm on."

Notre Dame linebacker commit Osita Ekwonu has totaled 45 tackles and 153 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries in the first five games of his senior season at Charlotte (N.C.) Providence Day.