Top pass rusher Julian Okwara joins Kareem in returning to Notre Dame for 2019

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston insists defensive end Julian Okwara’s best football is still in front of him.

Which is good news for the Irish, after the 6-foot-5, 241-pound junior announced Saturday he’ll be returning to Notre Dame for his senior season and deferring the NFL Draft for another year.

The Nigeria native and Charlotte, N.C., product made his announcement on Twitter, five days after bookend junior defensive end Khalid Kareem did the same.

Unfinished Business. #LoveThee ☘️

— Julian Okwara (@shwaggyj) January 5, 2019

Okwara is ND’s best pass rusher, with school records this past season in quarterback hurries for a single game (7 vs. Pitt) and for a season (21). He and senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery tied for the team lead in sacks with eight.

The younger brother of Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara, a former Irish sack leader, had 38 tackles overall in 2018, including a team-best 12.5 for losses.

Okwara and Kareem are the first two Irish players with remaining eligibility to nix the 2019 NFL Draft to stay with the Notre Dame program after exploring early entry. Junior cornerback Julian Love and tight end Alizé Mack, a senior with a fifth-year-option, have both entered the NFL Draft pool.

Wide receiver Miles Boykin, another senior with a fifth-year option, has until the Jan. 14 deadline for underclassmen to apply to make his draft decision.

Barring a transfer, every defensive end on the Irish roster will return, and the Irish signed two prep standouts last month in NaNa Osafo-Mensah from Fort Worth, Texas, and Howard Cross III, from Montvale, N.J. The Irish are also hoping to add four-star defensive end Isaiah Foskey from Concord, Calif., on National Signing Day next month.

Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara (42) chases down Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (16) during ND's 30-3 loss in the Cotton Bowl, Saturday at Arlington, Texas.