Notre Dame doubling down on surging freshman DL Jayson and Justin Ademilola

Eric Hansen | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Before coaxing the Ademilola twins to infuse martial arts concepts into their football evolution, Peter Kafaf was doing the same with the likes of eventual Notre Dame All-America offensive guard Quenton Nelson and Michigan elite defensive line ogre Rashan Gary.

That and the long, impressive list of other name-brand clientele the New Jersey-based offensive/defensive line guru helped mold, back when they were still in high school, makes his declaration this week about where Notre Dame freshman defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola might be headed all the more pungent.

“Of every kid I’ve coached coming out of my program, Jayson is the most technically advanced,” Kafaf said. “Even over Rashan Gary.”

Kafaf was in town over the weekend to catch up with four of his former students, including Gary and Michigan defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, along with the Ademilolas, during and around Notre Dame’s 24-17 conquest of the Wolverines on Saturday night.

“Now Rashan has the physical gifts, and you saw them on display,” Kafaf qualified. “And that gives him the edge as a complete player.

“But as far as hands and technical skill on how to defeat an opponent, Jayson’s the best I’ve ever coached, and Justin’s right behind him.”

For anyone who devoutly follows the recruiting star-system, the national camp circuit and a persistent narrative about the twins’ respective skill sets, the statement about three-star Justin may be the true mic dropper.

The impressions from the Notre Dame coaching staff, though, are consistent with that of Kafaf, and both brothers could see action Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT, when the eighth-ranked Irish (1-0) look to encore with first-time opponent Ball State (1-0).

Jayson, a 6-foot-3, 284-pound defensive tackle and a high four-star prospect, was one of only five Irish freshmen who got into the game against Michigan on Saturday night, and the only one who recorded a statistic (one tackle).

With sophomore Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa suffering a broken foot against the Wolverines, Jayson moves up to the No. 2 spot at defensive tackle behind senior Jerry Tillery.

Justin, whom D-line coach Mike Elston predicted would be a huge surprise as early as this fall, jumped over junior Jamir Jones and sophomore Kofi Wardlow at the rush end during preseason camp and put himself in position to work into the periphery of a rotation with established juniors Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara.

“He’s really close,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said earlier this week. “Really close.

“They have really good football instincts. You can accelerate the teaching and the learning when they come in with some really good football instincts.”

There were a lot of sacrifices made to get to that point, though, both from the family and the players themselves. Quite literally, it was a long road — well two of them.

The twins’ father, Ade, a Nigeria native who moved to the U.S. in 1989, learned a lot from his oldest son Marcus’ recruiting process. Marcus is a senior tight end at Bucknell University who is redshirting this season after suffering an injury in preseason camp.

Marcus attended public school in the Ademilolas’ hometown of Jackson in central New Jersey and didn’t really know the nuances of the recruiting game.

Ade and wife Yolanda became determined to put the twins in a better position. They settled on the football tradition of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City for its academic and football prowess, but that required a commute of roughly an hour and a half each way. Every day.

Later Ade tracked down Kafaf, who lives in Fair Haven, a good 45-minute drive each way from Jackson.

At first Kafaf agreed only to work with Jayson, because Justin — a linebacker at the time — hadn’t yet grown into a lineman’s build.

“I was pretty much just doing O-Line and D-Line at that point,” Kafaf said. “Jayson was going into his sophomore year, and he showed up a mess. His hips were so tight literally he could not get in a stance.”

Kafaf incorporates functional movement screens (FMS) into his practice.

“It evaluates how the body moves and then how to correct it,” he said, “Kind of like turning an instrument. We could see Jayson was out of tune. His body was very, very out of tune.”

By the time Jayson was in sync a year later, Justin had joined the workout group. Once a week during the offseason, they’d visit Kafaf and he’d give them homework to perfect by the time they made their next visit.

With each passing session, martial arts concepts became more prevalent. Kafaf trained under the late Duk Sung Son, the co-founder of taekwondo.

“One of the things with martial arts, I teach them not to strike first,” Kafaf said. “Let your opponent strike first, and you counterstrike. If you do that, you’ll create a weakness in them that you can exploit.”

What Kafaf didn’t count on was how competitive the brothers would be with each other.

“It was like, ‘I did it better than you, and all this sort of thing.’ ” Kafaf said. “I told them they were knuckleheads. Half of my training time was trying to get them off of each other and to pay attention to me. The other half was getting them better. But you could see the improvement.

“At that time, I was contacting coaches in major college programs, promoting these kids. But the response wasn’t that great, because the film of their sophomore year was totally unimpressive.

“But I could see what was coming.”

Apparently Notre Dame could to, in part from the recommendation of a high school teammate, Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

The Ademilolas verbally committed to Notre Dame in June of 2016 during an unofficial recruiting visit. Notre Dame technically changed defensive coordinators three times before their first college game on Saturday night — from Brian VanGorder to the interim collaboration led by Elston to Mike Elko to current DC Clark Lea.

“Intellectually and from a technique standpoint, I knew they’d be ready,” Kafaf said. “Physically they will be as they work in the weight room, but you’ve got to remember they’ve been in a college program three or four months and they’re going against people who have been in one three or four years most games.

“But if you saw the tackle Jayson made in the game, it’s just the way you saw him do it in drills. I’m sure Justin will eventually do the same. There’s a lot of learning to do as far as schematic stuff, but it’s clear to see they’ve got a huge future ahead of them at Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame’s Jayson Ademilola (57) and Asmar Bilal (22) chase down Michigan’s Chris Evans (12) during last Saturday’s game in South Bend.

WHO: No. 8 NOTRE DAME (1-0) vs. Ball State (1-0)

WHEN: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT

WHERE: Notre Dame Stadium

TV: NBC

RADIO: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1)

LINE: Notre Dame by 34½