Former Notre Dame teammates James Onwualu, Romeo Okwara making it through isolation together

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

James Onwualu and Romeo Okwara turned to a keg to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

Not to consume beer, though.

The former Notre Dame football teammates have incorporated a keg into their offseason workout plans while living together in Los Angeles.

“When gyms started closing down and some of the equipment and training started getting sparse,” Onwualu said, “we were just like, ‘All right. We’re going to need heavier things to lift. We’re going to need to start putting together some things at home to be able to put our own workouts together.’

“I asked some (physical therapists) and trainers and Rome did a great job of asking his guys in Detroit for good supplies to get. A keg, some kettlebells, some dumbbells, things like that got collected pretty quickly.”

Okwara, a defensive end with the Detroit Lions, was reminded of the keg tosses he’d seen during the annual PigTostal party on Notre Dame’s campus when he was holding a keg while doing lunges.

“People were doing it for fun, but we’re out here using kegs for a workout now,” Okwara said. “It’s really interesting.”

The Lions provided Okwara and his teammates with workout plans to help them continue to progress despite the circumstances.

“They’ve given us resources in terms of letting us know places where we can find equipment and stuff like that,” Okwara said. “They’re doing the best they can in terms of keeping us prepared and engaged.”

Onwualu, a free agent linebacker, is still working through the final month or two of his rehab from a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee. He suffered the injury last August while practicing with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Luckily I’ve been able to continue to work with my (physical therapist) over Zoom and getting out on the field with him a couple times a week,” Onwualu said. “Of course staying socially distanced but still getting the work in that I need.”

Onwualu played in nine games mostly on special teams in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017. The next year, he was waived following a groin injury. He played in five games for the San Francisco 49ers in 2018, then the Jaguars claimed him off waivers last April.

As he works to be signed by a fourth team in his fourth season, Onwualu may actually benefit by any delays the pandemic puts on the NFL’s offseason schedule. Instead of having to workout for teams interested in signing him, Onwualu can make sure he’s completed his rehab — even if those activities are harder to organize.

“We could have pushed for me to be healthy right around now,” Onwualu said. “But I’ve had injuries in the past and I know that it’s best to get 100-percent healthy before trying to rush it back. I don’t want to come back and have a re-injury. Luckily with a little extra time, I’m going to be able to get fully healthy and be stronger than I was before.”

The efforts to slow down the spread of the pandemic have impacted Okwara’s younger brother, Julian. Because NFL teams stopped traveling to evaluate this year’s NFL Draft prospects, Julian Okwara, also a former Irish defensive end, had to hold a private workout, record it and send it to scouts.

Julian Okwara didn’t do the physical testing at the NFL Scouting Combine in February because he was still recovering from a broken fibula in his left leg from last November.

“Luckily he’s at the point where he is feeling better and he’s basically 100-percent healthy right now, so that’s all good,” Romeo Okwara said.

The Okwara family planned to get together in Las Vegas for the NFL Draft (April 23-25), but now that the draft will be held virtually, they’re scrambling to figure out a new plan. On Thursday, the NFL announced that Julian Okwara would be one of 58 prospects that will participate virtually in the draft in some way.

Now the Okwaras will likely gather in their hometown of Charlotte, N.C., for the draft.

“I think we might watch it with my brothers at his apartment,” Romeo Okwara said.

But until then, Romeo Okwara will be working hard with his current roommate. They’ll continue to search for solutions for all their workout needs.

Maybe they will find time to use a keg for its intended purpose at some point down the road.

“It’s really helpful to have a former teammate with you,” Onwualu said. “You can be with guys that you train with in the league, but you can push each other when you’ve had a background, went to school together and you’re close friends.

“You can really push each other when you have to be creative during these times. It’s been good that we’ve been together.”

Former Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu (1) remains an NFL free agent as he completes his recovery from a knee injury last August.
Former Notre Dame defensive end Romeo Okwara (pictured) is living in Los Angeles with former teammate James Onwualu during the NFL’s offseason.