Notre Dame freshman Ovie Oghoufo embraces scout team role

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Ovie Oghoufo didn’t plan on redshirting this season.

Most freshman don’t. With the new NCAA rule that allows players to maintain a year of eligibility by playing in up to four games in a season, a full slate on the bench will become even tougher to swallow for young football players.

That’s the fate Oghoufo, a freshman linebacker, was given by Notre Dame’s coaches. Despite enrolling in January, Oghoufo didn’t see the field in any regular season games for the Irish.

“Coming in this year and hearing I was going to redshirt, that was pretty hard,” Oghoufo said. “Once I realized that everybody’s part of the team and scout team is part of this team, I took pride with it and ran with it.”

Oghoufo committed himself so thoroughly to the scout team that he was named Notre Dame’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year on Friday night at the annual awards show for the Irish football team.

“Every week I just tried to put in my all no matter what I had to play,” Oghoufo said. “I played D-end, I played linebacker, I played all types of positions. At the end of the day, it’s giving the offense the look that they need. I guess it’s helped because we’re undefeated, right?”

The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Oghoufo helped himself too. When he enrolled at Notre Dame, he needed to add weight. Almost a full year in the strength and conditioning program of director of football performance Matt Balis has changed that.

“I came in about 207,” Oghoufo said. “That was rough. Seeing that on the scale is like, ‘Yo, come on. Am I ever going to play?’ Then I got up to as much as 226. That’s a lot of weight, and it’s crazy. I thank coach Balis a lot because I actually feel even faster than I felt before putting on that weight.”

Now Oghoufo has put himself in a position to play a few different positions for the Irish. Head coach Brian Kelly compared Oghoufo’s frame to defensive end Julian Okwara’s earlier this season. Oghoufo played some defensive end on the scout team, but he spent most of his individual drill work with the linebacker group.

Oghoufo, who tallied 106 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, 32 catches for 529 yards and seven TDs as a senior at Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison, said he’s open to any possibility. He wants to get his weight into the 230s “so I can be able to be very versatile and play as many positions as I can.”

In addition to helping prepare Notre Dame’s offense, Oghoufo spent the year improving his technique.

“I came in with a lot of raw talent, speed, agility, a lot of good things, but I wasn’t really technically sound,” Oghoufo said. “This year helped me become technically sound. I’ve been able to work on my technique.

“I’ve seen it as well as (defensive coordinator and linebackers) coach (Clark) Lea has seen it. Other coaches have seen it. That’s the biggest part. And especially mentally going through things, this is the right way to go. At the end of the day, I overcame.”

Oghoufo enrolled in January alongside six other Irish freshmen: linebackers Bo Bauer and Jack Lamb, defensive back Houston Griffith, running back Jahmir Smith, wide receiver Micah Jones, tight end George Takacs. Of that group, only Bauer and Griffith used up their freshman eligibility with consistent playing time this season.

But the advantages of enrolling early went beyond a chance of early playing time for Oghoufo. It allowed him to adjust to college well before the fall semester.

“I recommend it to everybody,” Oghoufo said. “It was hard. The semester was hard. But I learned so many things academically, I met so many people in terms of my career endeavors as well as football. I’ve learned mentally how to take on water and keep going and keep pushing.”

Oghoufo leaned on Lamb as they deal with similar challenges as linebackers.

“We shared nearly every moment together throughout this whole thing,” Oghoufo said. “It was a grind. There was definitely a lot of complaining, but at the end of the day we knew that our time was coming.”

A redshirt season shouldn’t be something of which Oghoufo’s ashamed. The list of redshirting freshmen at Notre Dame who didn’t play in a game this season includes Lamb, safety Derrik Allen, tight end George Takacs, wide receiver Braden Lenzy and cornerback Noah Boykin. All five of those guys were rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.

Oghoufo had a three-star rating as the No. 40 outside linebacker, according to Rivals. 247Sports slated him No. 37 at the position in the 2018 class.

But patience had to be learned even by Oghoufo. After suffering a concussion before the Michigan game, he realized how badly he wanted to be on the field — even if it was only the practice field as a member of the scout team.

That’s where he found his role on the Irish for 2018. He has four more seasons left to find a new one.

“Standing on the sideline was hard, because that’s not something I was used to doing,” Oghoufo said. “No matter what it was, I wanted to play as much as I could. If it was scout team or anything. As soon as I came back, I knew that I had a mission and that is to help my team, help my offense.”

Mission accomplished.

Freshman linebacker Ovie Oghoufo, center, was named Notre Dame’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year.