Necessary development has allowed Notre Dame DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji to make his name known

Tyler James | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Not many people call him Adetokunbo Ogundeji these days.

The five-syllable first name has been shortened down to Ade (pronounced AH-day).

Only family members have stuck with Adetokunbo. Some professors will try to use the full name but tend to give up a few weeks into the semester.

“It’s always Ade now,” the Notre Dame senior defensive end said.

Ogundeji (OH-gun-day-gee) has made a name for himself, even if it’s been shortened by seven letters. The former three-star recruit has carved out an important role as a backup defensive end for the Irish.

Despite working in a timeshare at strongside defensive end behind fellow senior Khalid Kareem, Ogundeji has recorded 10 tackles in the last three games spanning back to the Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson. No Notre Dame defensive lineman has recorded more than eight tackles during that time.

The 6-foot-4, 253-pound Ogundeji has already tallied seven tackles, one tackle for a loss and one forced fumble through the first two games of 2019. Not bad for a developmental prospect out of Walled Lake (Mich.) Central.

“It’s definitely been a long time coming for me,” Ogundeji said. “I’m blessed to be in this position. I thank God all the time that I’m here playing at Notre Dame.”

That’s why Ogundeji is comfortable with the outside perception of No. 7 Notre Dame’s chances on Saturday night against No. 3 Georgia. Most betting lines have the Bulldogs as 14-point favorites playing at home in Athens.

Ogundeji knows what the underdog role feels like. He even admitted it’s a good spot to be in heading into Saturday’s game.

Then Ogundeji dismissed the notion that it provides any extra motivation. After all, making it into the College Football Playoff and winning a national championship remains the program goal. Winning every regular season game will likely be required for the Irish to accomplish that this season.

“We’re just worried about winning the game,” Ogundeji said. “Even if we’re high favorites, we’re worried about winning the game. If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. I don’t think it’s extra motivation. It’s just what other people think.”

A recruiting revelation

Surpassing expectations has long been a part of Ogundeji’s story. He never expected to be a college football player.

Ogundeji’s athletic career started on the soccer field as a young child. There he played recklessly — running full speed and slide tackling opponents — and received a healthy share of red cards.

Then Ogundeji turned to basketball where his height and long limbs were assets. Eventually he found his way to the football field in eighth grade. While trying to learn the game, he was stuck playing on the offensive line.

A position switch to defensive end changed his trajectory. Following a junior season in which he totaled 68 tackles, nine sacks and 17 pass deflections, a few colleges started to take notice of the lanky defensive end. But the amount of scholarship offers he received were limited. He gave his verbal commitment to Western Michigan in January 2015 and figured his recruitment would end there.

Everything changed in June when Ogundeji attended the Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy. Following the camp, he received offers from Oregon and Rutgers. Then Notre Dame invited him to attend one of its summer camps. He impressed the Irish enough at its camp to receive a scholarship offer from then defensive line coach Keith Gilmore days later.

“I definitely was shocked,” Ogundeji said. “I didn’t really expect it. All my offers were kind of a shock to me. I knew I was a developmental player.”

At the time, 247Sports slated Ogundeji as a three-star recruit and the No. 39 weakside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals didn’t even have a star rating for him yet.

Less than a month later, Ogundeji offered his pledge to Notre Dame.

“The fans are great. Students are great. The faculty’s great,” Ogundeji said. “I definitely couldn’t say no to this place.”

Ogundeji joined Julian Okwara as only the second defensive end committed to the class. Jamir Jones, a linebacker at the time, was also committed to the Irish. Fellow Michigan defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Daelin Hayes would eventually join the class too.

Behind the star power of Okwara, Kareem and Hayes, Ogundeji became a bit of an afterthought. His senior season was cut short after just four weeks with a partially torn MCL. The 6-4, 211-pound Ogundeji had a lot of work ahead of him.

Maximizing opportunities

In his first year at Notre Dame, Ogundeji gained 30 pounds. It wasn’t healthy weight either.

“That first summer I was here, I was just eating pizza, nachos,” Ogundeji said. “Anything I could put my hands on I was eating.”

Ogundeji looked less like a wide receiver, but his path to the playing field wasn’t any shorter. He was one of nine freshmen to not receive game action in the disastrous 2016 season. But Okwara, Kareem, Hayes and Jones were all able to get their feet wet.

“Then I started to realize that I had to start taking care of my body, getting stronger, getting physically better,” Ogundeji said.

The improvements were incremental. Ogundeji only played in five games as a sophomore. Then defensive end Jay Hayes decided to pursue a graduate transfer for the 2018 season and left an opening for Ogundeji to make the defensive line rotation.

“They told me you’re going to have an opportunity,” Ogundeji said. “Once I realized I had that opportunity, I started to feel like myself. I started to play well. I started feeling myself understanding the game and playing a lot better.”

As a junior last season, Ogundeji played in all 13 games. He registered 22 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

Ogundeji even showed up on the biggest stage. He beat Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt, a consensus All-American, to sack quarterback Trevor Lawrence on a third-down play in the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to the Tigers in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

The Notre Dame defensive line will step into the spotlight again Saturday night when tasked with slowing down a Georgia offense in the top 10 nationally in scoring, total yards and rushing. The Bulldogs have one of the top offensive lines in the country.

“They’re physical. They’re well-coached. They do things the right way,” Ogundeji said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. You have to go out there and you have to play hard. You have to beat them. They’re not going to get penalties and all that. They’re going to come out there and play football the right way.”

Playing hard won’t be an issue for Ogundeji. Despite his emergence as a critical role player in Notre Dame’s defense, he was still on the field for the final play of last weekend’s 66-14 blowout of New Mexico. He combined with freshman cornerback KJ Wallace to make the tackle.

The unpolished prospect with long limbs and a long name has come too far to not maximize any opportunities.

“No matter if I miss an assignment or miss something that happened, it’s all about finishing the play. That’s how I think about it,” Ogundeji said. “I have to finish the play no matter what. That’s my mindset every time I go on the field. No matter what time I get on the field — no matter if it’s the third quarter, the fourth quarter, I still have to go 100 percent.”

Notre Dame defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji (91) celebrates after forcing a fumble against Louisville.
Notre Dame defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji (91) strips Florida State running back Cam Akers last season.