Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah jumps at his upcoming opportunity at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

It was an annoyance at the time that turned into a life lesson for future Notre Dame football player Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

The only trampoline in his Hampton, Va., neighborhood just happened to be in Owusu-Koramoah's backyard. And mom Beverly, perhaps exercising her Air Force background, was well aware of that fact and leveraged it.

If Jeremiah or older brother Josh wanted to jump, they first had to recite multiplication tables or identify a verb in the sentence or take a grammar mini-quiz. Same went for any of their friends.

“Everyone had to do it who wanted to get in the trampoline or you couldn't get on it,” Owusu-Koramoah said with a laugh. “But it taught me nothing is given to you in life. You have to earn it.”

It's a habit that's stuck with the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior of Hampton Bethel High, who just happens to be the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first player Notre Dame specifically recruited to play its new rover position?

“He's working as if he doesn't have a scholarship,” noted Bethel head football coach William Beverley. “He's working that hard. He has been ever since basketball season ended. In fact, he got into this mode — getting ready for life at Notre Dame — even before basketball ended. Maybe it affected his jump shot.”

Apparently not too much, though. Owusu-Koramoah and Bethel made it all the way to the Class 5A state title game before losing to top-ranked L.C. Bird, 65-52, on March 11.

Owusu-Koramoah had 12 points in that game — one fewer than his season average — after firing in 21 in state semifinal victory over Hampton High.

Two Division I schools — Maryland Eastern Shore and VMI — tried to get Owusu-Koramoah to continue the hoops dream. And occasional chats with the school's most famous former student, basketball Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson, didn't dissuade that.

But before Iverson brought a state title to Bethel in boys basketball in 1993 — its only one the Bruins have captured in that sport — he led them the previous fall to a state championship in football, the school's third and most recent. The Virginia state Player of the Year that season (1992), Iverson was best known for his quarterback skills, but he was versatile.

He also played running back, kick returner and defensive back.

A versatile skill set in football now defines Owusu-Koramoah, but he came about it begrudgingly.

Beverley already had Owusu-Koramoah playing wide receiver on offense, a position roughly 10 FBS schools recruited him to play, and safety on defense the season before. But the coach envisioned moving his best athlete around the defensive formation in 2016, based on matchups.

One week Owusu-Koramoah would be a run-stuffing outside linebacker. The next, in his old familiar safety role, and the next pass rushing from the defensive line.

“It was something he evolved into,” Beverley said. “I had to kind of gain his trust and show him how it could benefit him.”

After a 7-5 season, Owusu-Koramoah was named second-team all-state as a wide receiver but first team as an all-purpose player on defense. When Mike Elko was hired in December to be ND's new defensive coordinator, he remembered Owusu-Koramoah's wide skill set from trying to recruit him while heading up Wake Forest's defense.

It's pretty much the textbook talent base required of the hybrid outside linebacker/safety/pass-rushing rover position at ND.

Owusu-Koramoah had committed to Virginia back in late October. But the Irish were able to flip him on National Signing Day, Feb. 1. He was the second-to-last commitment in the Irish class, just ahead of defensive end Kofi Wardlow, a Maryland flip.

In fact, Owusu-Koramoah was told to call Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly during the coach's signing day press conference to provide a little drama.

Kelly stumbled through the script, though, putting the phone up to his ear as he was walking out of the room long before he actually answered the phone.

“It took so long, I didn't think he was going to pick up,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “It kept ringing, ringing, ringing. I thought I was going to have to leave him a message, like 'My bad.'

“It's all working out great. I'm playing what's become my dream position and at my dream school.”

And he may be able to work his way up the depth chart quickly. Senior strong safety Drue Tranquill and junior Asmar Bilal have shared the most rover reps this spring, but walk-ons are directly behind them.

Sophomore Spencer Perry couldn't gain traction at the new position and recently announced his intentions to transfer.

“We hosted him with (linebacker) Nyles Morgan,” Kelly said of Owusu-Koramoah's recruiting visit late in the cycle. “When you host somebody, you want them to see Notre Dame and see the social aspects. These guys didn't leave the film room.

“I mean, it was like they were joined at the hip for six hours just talking football. That's the kind of kid he is. He loves football. He's going to be a great addition to the Notre Dame football family.”

Owusu-Koramoah's biological family loves sports, too. Brother Josh is a walk-on outside linebacker at William & Mary, with an academic scholarship paying his way. Mom Beverly was a standout in track and volleyball in Florida, while father Andrews — who grew up in Africa — played soccer, track and volleyball.

“But sports is down the list of priorities in that household,” coach Beverley said. “It's God first, then family and school and then sports.”

Growing up fast will have to become a priority for Owusu-Koramoah, who enrolls in June. He will mark his 18th birthday the same day Notre Dame plays its ninth game of the 2017 season, Nov. 4 against Wake Forest.

“I don't like to talk on myself, you know,” Owusu-Koramoah said when asked if he'd be better off redshirting. “I'm going to put myself in a position to be ready. I just put my faith in God and go out and do what I've got to do. I'll let the chips fall.”

Added coach Beverley, “I think physically, mentally and emotionally, under the right guidance, he can play for them right away.

“He's put on about 10 muscle pounds in the last four to five weeks. It's impressive. It's who he is, and I think it's going to bode well wherever he lands on the field and whenever he lands on the field. He's still growing. It's hard to tell where he's going to peak.”

Hampton (Va.) Bethel High standout Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is working hard to compete at Notre Dame's new rover position as an incoming freshman. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)