Notre Dame DT Jayson Ademilola keeps hunting the football with his relentless motor
SOUTH BEND — Jayson Ademilola pounded one hand into his other hand for added emphasis.
As if the words Notre Dame’s senior defensive tackle delivered weren’t strong enough, Ademilola gave the message extra punctuation.
“Playing defensive line, you have to have a different mindset,” Ademilola said. “You have to be prepared for the moment. You have to just be a complete badass. If you don’t have that mindset, then you can’t play here.
“Everybody in our D-line room, we have that mindset. It comes from our coaching staff.”
Then came the pounding as if it were a drumbeat for destruction.
“We’re going to come in here and we’re going to keep on going, keep on going, keep on going,” Ademilola said. “Full six seconds of the whole play. We don’t take any plays off. We’re going to hunt each and every play. That’s the mentality that is instilled in all our players.”
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Ademilola can talk and emote that way, because he matched that intensity in the first four games this season for No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0). In his first season as a full-time starter, Ademilola has proven he’s more than capable of fulfilling the needs of his position.
The move of Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa from defensive tackle to defensive end opened up a playing time increase for Ademilola. The transition has been successful, because Ademilola didn’t wait for his opportunity. He worked for it.
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“Ever since I was a freshman, a young player, I always had these goals set in place,” Ademilola said. “I knew I was going to reach those goals through hard work. The people who came here before me were mentoring me, giving me advice and everything.
“Working with Myron, I knew when the time would come and when it was my time to get the moment, I’m going to be prepared for it. I’m going to be ready to take on any challenge.”
The goals aren’t plural. The singular goal isn’t complicated either. But it’s not easy to achieve.
“I want to be elite,” Ademilola said. “Each and every day I come on the field, that’s my one goal: being elite. Whatever is going to make me elite. Whether that’s working on my hands each and every day, my feet each and every day, block destruction. That’s what (defensive line) coach (Mike) Elston instills in us each and every day.”
Hunting the football
Ademilola’s designation as a backup the last three seasons didn’t discourage him into complacency. It only drove him to keep working hard, because he knew the product of all his work would eventually show up on Saturdays.
That’s not to suggest Ademilola wasn’t already making an impact for the Irish. In his first three seasons, Ademilola totaled 55 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and one sack in 31 games. As a sophomore in 2019, Ademilola even recorded three more tackles (25) than 12-game starter Tagovailoa-Amosa.
This season, Ademilola might surpass 25 tackles before the Oct. 16 bye week. Ademilola’s 19 tackles in the first four games are third-best on Notre Dame behind linebacker JD Bertrand (43) and safety Kyle Hamilton (24). That’s rare company for an Irish defensive tackle if Ademilola can keep pace. The highest season finish in tackles for a Notre Dame defensive tackle under former defensive coordinator Clark Lea belonged to Jerry Tillery in 2018, when he ranked 11th on the team in tackles with 30 in 13 games.
"He's playing at a high level,” said ND head coach Brian Kelly. “There's no doubt about that. He is extremely active.”
Ademilola takes pride in having a relentless motor. The location of the football does not change his effort level.
“I like working hard,” Ademilola said. “I want to make every play. I’m a hungry player. When the ball’s in my area or across the field, I’m hunting it down. That’s just having a mindset that you want everything.”
Wisconsin couldn’t keep Ademilola in check Saturday. He made five tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble on quarterback Graham Mertz that helped push the game in Notre Dame’s favor in the fourth quarter.
“He is running to the football,” Kelly said. “There is no play off for him. And that kind of play, for a guy that plays inside, it's unmistakable. You see it. Those big fellas running around and chasing down plays, when they arrive to the ball carrier, they make an impact. And it is felt.”
For the literal brotherhood
Notre Dame’s defensive line rallying cry, “For the Brotherhood,” has extra meaning for Ademilola. His twin brother, Justin, plays defensive end for the Irish too.
The transition to new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s scheme has benefited Justin as well. Justin already has 13 tackles and two sacks in four games after finishing last season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one sack in 12 games.
Though most recruiting websites favored Jayson (a four-star defensive tackle) over Justin (a three-star defensive end) as prospects out of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep, Jayson never doubted that Justin could make this kind of impact.
“We both grew up hard-nosed wrestlers,” Jayson said. “That’s where I get my mindset, and that’s where he gets his mindset. When I look to the left of me and I see that we’re both on the field together, that whole side of the field is shut down. That’s the mindset that we have.
“My brother is a workhorse. He’s a go-getter. He’s an elite player coming from the linebacker position to vyper D-end. He’s really active. Me and him on the field together, we’re locking that down.”
Justin, a 6-2, 255-pound senior who preserved a season of eligibility as a freshman, has been able to show his versatility in the vyper role. He can rush the passer off the edge or align as a linebacker and drop into coverage.
“Sometimes you don't know when you drop those guys, they don't know where they are sometimes,” Kelly said. “They don't know the difference between whether they're on the numbers or on the hash. He has pretty good spatial awareness, so when he does drop, he kind of gets a pretty good feel of where he is. And he's been disruptive.
“When he drops, he gets underneath the curl. Or when he drops, he gets underneath the out cut. That's why we've continued to use him in that fashion, because he has a pretty good feel for dropping. Some aren't quite as natural, and we tend not to do that with them. With Justin, he has a pretty good knack with it."
Shutting down Cincinnati
Notre Dame’s defense may be facing its toughest task of the season when No. 7 Cincinnati (3-0) comes to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).
The Bearcats entered the week ranked No. 7 in scoring offense with 43 points per game. Quarterback Desmond Ridder could make a case for the best quarterback on Notre Dame’s schedule with his mix of experience and production. And running back Jerome Ford, a former Alabama backup, rushed for 300 yards and six touchdowns in the first three games.
“It’s the next team up,” Jayson Ademilola said. “We talk about the next game. New life, next game up. We have to prepare like we prepared last week. It’s a big challenge. Cincinnati is a good team. They’re well-coached. It’s a big opportunity, but we’re ready for it.”
The two programs, Notre Dame and Cincinnati, have a growing number of ties including Kelly, Freeman and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens all working for the Bearcats immediately prior to coming to Notre Dame.
Ademilola said the Irish defensive line is motivated by its coaches, but not because of the history they have with this weekend’s opponent. Ademilola understands how much time Freeman and Elston have devoted to improving the defense since a shaky performance in the season-opening, 41-38 victory at Florida State.
The Irish held Wisconsin to 13 points and 74 rushing yards last Saturday without starting nose guard Kurt Hinish, who will remain sidelined this weekend due to a concussion.
“The guys in the D-line room, we take it really, really personal because we see coach Freeman and coach Elston staying up late,” Ademilola said. “I get here in the morning sometimes super early, 7 o’clock, they’re here. I leave sometimes after I do homework, 10 o’clock at night, they’re here. It’s only right for us to go dive in 150% into that game plan. We execute for our coaches.”
That execution comes with a healthy serving of violence. The emphatic hand-pounding is replaced by pads thudding.
The Irish have a 26-game home winning streak to defend. That doesn’t happen by backing down from a fight.
“When we huddle up before the game, we harp on being the most physical, baddest dudes,” Ademilola said of the ND defensive line. “We might not be the biggest, but we’re the fastest, violent, fast hands.
“We work. We move. We’re a really confident group, because we come out here and we work on that. We prepare ourselves to a whole new level. Great preparation eliminates all fear.”
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.