DT Jayson Ademilola sheds blockers on path to potential starting role for Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

To explain the ability of senior defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly turned to a joke he might have heard at a football coaching clinic.

“How do you get guys off blocks?” Kelly said Saturday following Notre Dame’s fourth spring practice. “You just yell louder.”

“Because it’s almost an innate ability to do it. Some guys are good at it, some guys not quite as good.”

Turns out Ademilola falls in the good category. Though Ademilola spent his first three seasons with the Irish as a rotational player, Notre Dame appears to be making room for him in the starting lineup by moving fellow defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to strongside defensive end. That alignment has repeatedly shown up in video glimpses of spring practice shared by the program.

“He doesn’t stay blocked, and he makes plays,” Kelly said of Ademilola. “He makes tackles. That’s a mark of a good player. He’s a guy that grades out very high. When he’s in there, he’s been very, very efficient as a football player for us.”

The senior-to-be Ademilola might be riding the momentum with which he finished a turbulent 2020 season. He made his first two career starts in October against Florida State and Louisville while Tagovailoa-Amosa was limited. Then Ademilola was forced to miss three games due a torn meniscus in one of his knees suffered against Clemson in November.

Following surgery and rehab, Ademilola returned to play arguably his best two games of the season against Clemson in the ACC Championship and Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Ademilola finished the season with only 11 tackles, four quarterback hurries, 1.5 tackles for a loss and half a sack, but seven of those tackles and all of his tackles for a loss came in the final two games.

“I had that chip on my shoulder,” Ademilola said Saturday. “I brought over that chip of me being injured from the Clemson game into the ACC Championship and also in the playoffs. I was a dominant player and that’s where I’m picking up from this year.”

The opportunity to start this coming season hasn’t changed the way the 6-foot-3, 279-pound Ademilola prepares. He said he wants to bring the same intensity to spring practice that he brought in practices last fall and seasons past.

Now he has the chance to play alongside Tagovailoa-Amosa, a graduate senior, instead of rotating with him.

“Each year whether it’s practices or in games, we learn from each other, we work on the same stuff that we need to work on together,” Ademilola said. “We talk. We communicate. Whether he’s in the game, I help him. Whether I’m in the game, he helps me. Our relationship has been really great since I got here on campus.”

That relationship aligns with defensive line coach Mike Elston’s motto for the defensive line group: “For the Brotherhood.” The brotherhood is literal for Ademilola, who joined the Irish from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep with his twin brother, Justin, a defensive end. Now Justin Ademilola has been splitting time with Tagovailoa-Amosa at defensive end this spring.

“This year, our roles keep on expanding and expanding,” Jayson Ademilola said. “I can always look to the right of me or left of me and know my brother’s right there. I can count on him. I can count on everybody else in the unit to go out there and do your job with your brother.”

The first impressions of new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s scheme have left Jayson Ademilola with the expectation that the Irish defensive line will be asked to make more plays.

“He wants us to go out there and make plays and have fun with the unit,” Jayson Ademilola said. “That’s what the whole defensive scheme is all really about: guys flying around. This upcoming season, you’re going to see a lot of us getting out there and getting after it. There’s going to be some changes, but we’re all going to be out there making plays this year.”

That means Jayson Ademilola should have the opportunity to surpass his first three seasons of production behind the line of scrimmage: seven tackles for a loss and one sack. He doesn’t lack the required ability, per Kelly. He also doesn’t lack the required confidence.

“I’m a guy who’s always going to attack the football, go find the football,” Ademilola said. “I’m a headhunter. Then when it gets in third down, I’m a pass rusher. That’s what I do. I can do a little bit of everything.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, right, has a natural ability for shedding blocks like this one attempted by Pittsburgh’s Jake Kradel.