Notebook: Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah voted a unanimous All-American

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

When Brian Kelly held the still-ringing iPhone up to his ear as part of a made-for-TV signing day stunt, the Notre Dame head coach might not have realized just how good the recruit on the other end of the line would become.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah signed with the Irish that first Wednesday of February in 2017. At the time, Owusu-Koramoah was a three-star prospect previously committed to Virginia with college projections at safety and outside linebacker.

He came highly recommended by new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and linebackers coach Clark Lea, who pursued him while coaching at Wake Forest and saw him as the ideal rover — a hybrid linebacker/safety in their 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

Nearly four years later, everyone involved looks pretty smart. On Thursday night, the NFL-bound Owusu-Koramoah became a unanimous All-American for the 2020 season.

Owusu-Koramoah was named a first-team Walter Camp All-American during ESPN’s College Football Awards on Thursday, which put Owusu-Koramoah on the first teams of all five All-American lists that determine unanimous (all five) and consensus (three of five) status. Owusu-Koramoah was previously selected as a first-team All-American by The Associated Press, The Sporting News, the Football Writers Association of America and the American Football Coaches Association.

Owusu-Koramoah became the 30th player in Notre Dame football history to be named a unanimous All-American and the first since offensive guard Quenton Nelson in 2017.

Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg was also named a first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation on Thursday night. But Eichenberg, a consensus All-American, fell short of unanimous status by one selection due to his second-team pick by the AP.

Notre Dame left guard Aaron Banks and safety Kyle Hamilton were named to the Walter Camp All-America second team.

Unanimous All-American status has been elusive for some of the best players in Irish history. Even three Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winners — quarterbacks Angelo Bertelli, Paul Hornung and John Huarte — weren’t unanimous All-Americans. Nor was Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith in 2015.

Owusu-Koramoah became the fifth Notre Dame linebacker to reach unanimous All-American status, following Jim Lynch (1966), Bob Golic (1978), Michael Stonebreaker (1990) and Manti Te’o (2012).

As a senior for the Irish, Owusu-Koramoah tallied 62 tackles, a team-high 11 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks and one interception. He returned one fumble for a touchdown in Notre Dame’s double-overtime victory over then-No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7.

That production was made possible when Notre Dame took a chance on him in 2017.

“He was a top priority for us (at Wake), so I saw him on a number of occasions in an evaluation setting,” said Lea, who took over as defensive coordinator in 2018 after Elko left to become Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator. “And obviously that continued when we got here. He was such a dynamic player on offense and defense, and he did so much. And you saw the possibilities there.

“It was in little areas — balance and body control, short-space acceleration — and it translated. It could be 7-on-7 at the school. It could be a basketball game. It could be watching a football game. He just flashed.

“It was one of those things where, pretty quickly, we figured he would be a top-of-the-board guy at Wake. And then when we came here, we came into a situation where we were fortunate enough to have some room to recruit him here.”

Kelly didn’t need much convincing.

“Obviously, he’s thorough and does his due diligence too, but I think we all kind of aligned on the fact that the film spoke volumes about the potential,” Lea said. “The relationship part of it allowed us to recruit him to a different place, a different campus, without feeling that we were starting from square one.

“But we were supported by coach (Kelly) the entire time. I think he saw what we saw and that’s kind of how we roll anyway.”

The potential Owusu-Koramoah realized at Notre Dame now has NFL scouts imagining how he can impact their organizations. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay forecasted the Denver Broncos selecting Owusu-Koramoah with the ninth overall pick in his latest mock draft.

Fellow ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Owusu-Koramoah as the No. 9 overall prospect in the draft. McShay slated him No. 12.

“It seems like he’s always on the field and he’s always running to the football,” McShay said last week on ND Insider’s Pod of Gold podcast. “I love that about him.”

No more hardware

Neither Owusu-Koramoah nor Eichenberg won the individual awards they were named finalists for during ESPN’s College Football Awards show Thursday night.

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins was named the Bednarik Award winner as college football’s best defensive player. Owusu-Koramoah and Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II were also finalists.

Alabama left tackle Alex Leatherwood was named the Outland Trophy winner as college football’s best interior lineman. Eichenberg and Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon were also finalists.

Rutherford to Arizona

Four days after Isaiah Rutherford announced he was entering the transfer portal, the former Notre Dame cornerback announced Thursday night his commitment to Arizona.

Rutherford, a former four-star recruit, never climbed into Notre Dame’s two-deep depth chart in his two seasons with the Irish. The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Rutherford played in only three games during his Notre Dame career and all three came this past season in blowouts over South Florida, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. He did not record a stat in those games.

Earlier Thursday, Arizona announced former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown as its new defensive coordinator. The Wildcats replaced head coach Kevin Sumlin with Jedd Fisch following an 0-5 season.

Rivals ranked Rutherford, a product of Carmichael (Calif.) Jesuit, as the No. 12 cornerback and No. 110 prospect overall in the 2019 class. 247Sports slated him as the No. 23 cornerback and No. 231 overall.

Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah tied linebacker Drew White for a team-high 80 tackles and led the Irish with 13.5 tackles for a loss last season.

Thirty Notre Dame players have accounted for 35 unanimous All-Americans in program history.

1929-30 QB Frank Carideo

1932 T Joe Kurth

1938 T Ed Beinor

1946-47 QB John Lujack

1949 E Leon Hart

1949 FB Emil Sitko

1952-53 HB John Lattner

1954 QB Ralph Guglielmi

1965 OG Dick Arrington

1966 HB Nick Eddy

1966 LB Jim Lynch

1969 DT Mike McCoy

1971 DE Walt Patulski

1972 DT Greg Marx

1975 DT Steve Niehaus

1976-77 DE Ross Browner

1977 TE Ken MacAfee

1978 LB Bob Golic

1980 C John Scully

1987 FL Tim Brown

1989-90 CB Todd Lyght

1990 FL Raghib Ismail

1990 LB Michael Stonebreaker

1990 DT Chris Zorich

1993 OT Aaron Taylor

2002 CB Shane Walton

2009 WR Golden Tate

2012 LB Manti Te’o

2017 OG Quenton Nelson

2020 LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah