Notre Dame DE Julian Okwara ready to be roommates, teammates with brother in Detroit

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Julian Okwara wasn’t joking.

When he was asked by reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in February about the possibility of playing with his older brother on the Detroit Lions, he said he already warned Romeo Okwara that it would mean they would become roommates.

Now the brothers, who have never been teammates before, will be together in Detroit after the Lions selected Julian in the NFL Draft’s third round Friday night.

“I’m looking forward to living a rent-free year,” Julian told reporters on a teleconference Friday night.

This was the younger brother’s original proposal.

“I actually messed around with him the other day and was telling him I’m moving in and I’m not going to be the one paying rent,” Julian said at the NFL Combine. “I told him I’ll sleep on the couch a little bit and let him build me a room or something like that.”

Then as soon as Julian ended the call with the Lions informing him of their pick, he looked directly at Romeo and said, ‘We’re about to be roommates, bro.”

Romeo, who is signed with the Lions through the 2020 season, will have time to sort out their living arrangements. Romeo actually lives in Los Angeles during the offseason with former Notre Dame teammate James Onwualu as a roommate.

Romeo, on ABC’s broadcast of the draft, said he couldn’t believe they would finally get a chance to be teammates.

“It’s awesome,” Julian said. “I’ve always dreamed about this, so it’s definitely a dream come true. I’m pretty much speechless.”

The Okwara family, originally from Lagos, Nigeria, gathered in its American hometown of Charlotte, N.C., to watch the draft.

Julian committed to Notre Dame in 2015 while Romeo was heading into his senior year with the Irish. But Romeo’s eligibility expired following the 2015 season and Julian didn’t enroll at Notre Dame until 2016.

Following four seasons at ND that included 113 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks, Romeo started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants. He was cut in 2018 before joining the Lions. Romeo finished that season with 39 tackles and 7.5 sacks in Detroit. His production slipped to 28 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2019.

The 6-foot-4, 252-pound Julian surpassed his older brother in career tackles for a loss and sacks at Notre Dame in seven fewer games. He finished with 77 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks and 35 quarterback hurries. Julian’s senior season was cut short by a broken left fibula suffered against Duke in early November.

“I would always try to beat his records and do things he didn’t do in college,” Julian said. “I kind of bragged about it, got bragging rights in high school and college a little bit. But just kind of (did) my own thing and now that we’re at the same level it’s really about getting each other better.”

Lions general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia will have to figure out if they can get both Okwaras on the field at the same time. Patricia likes to use a mix of three-man and four-man fronts on the defensive line. That means Julian could play defensive end or outside linebacker depending on the situation. Romeo (6-4, 263) played mostly defensive end.

“Outside linebacker, pass rusher, highly athletic kid, long, violent, had an injury this year that he recovered from,” Quinn said of Julian. “So we feel great with that recovery, and really expect him to do great things with his brother.”

Julian, selected with pick No. 67, and Khalid Kareem (Cincinnati Bengals, round five, pick No. 147 overall) became the fifth and sixth defensive ends drafted during head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure. They were the first defensive ends to be picked since 2017 when the Los Angeles Chargers took Isaac Rochell in the seventh round.

Julian is the highest Notre Dame defensive end drafted since Stephon Tuitt in 2014 (Pittsburgh Steelers, round two, pick 46).

He’s ready to show what he can do.

“(The Lions are) getting a relentless pass rusher, great defensive end, someone who wreaks havoc in the backfield.” Julian said. “I’m looking forward to that, a competitor on and off the field. I’m a dominant player. I love to win games. I’m looking forward to bringing a championship to Detroit.”

Defensive end Julian Okwara (42), seen here pressuring USC quarterback Kedon Slovis, will get to torment quarterbacks with his older brother Romeo together as Detroit Lions.
Brothers Romeo Okwara (left) and Julian Okwara (right) have never been teammates throughout their football careers. That will change after Julian was selected by the Detroit Lions in the third round of the NFL Draft. Romeo is signed with the Lions through the 2020 season.