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Adetokunbo Ogundeji steps up for Irish defensive line

| Friday, November 15, 2019

Injuries happen in the game of football.

It is so ingrained in the game that it cannot be used as a crutch or an excuse. The next man up steps in for as long as he needs, and the team requires the same level of production to keep going.

Senior Adetokunbo Ogundeji was playing rotationally as a defensive end early in the season. He was making the most of his time, but his role was greatly expanded when the team lost defensive lineman junior Daelin Hayes for the season against Virginia, and it is now poised to expand even further as lineman senior Julian Okwara will be lost for the season as well.

As the depth chart stands, senior defensive linemen Ogundeji, Khalid Kareem and Jamir Jones will split the workload between the two defensive end spots, with no other experienced players on the roster. Ogundeji is ready for the increase in responsibility, and is confident in his performance so far.

Zachary Yim | The Observer
Irish senior defensive lineman Adetokunbo Ogundeji wraps up an opponent during Notre Dame’s 38-7 win over Duke on Nov. 9 at Wallace Wade Stadium.

“I feel like I’ve done a great job stepping in for [Daelin Hayes],” Ogundeji said. “I feel like I’m being the leader I can be. These few weeks I’m focused on playing the best football I can possibly play. When it comes to being on the field and doing anything I can do to do my job and do it at a high ability, I try to just do that and focus on the good things.”

As this season winds down, part of Ogundeji’s responsibilities is showing younger defensive ends like sophomores Jayson Ademiola and Ovie Oghoufo how to approach their work. They will need to learn quickly, as they will likely see time on the field this weekend; even so, Ogundeji is committed to being part of their development.

“There’s a lot of young guys now that are playing,” Ogundeji said. “With the injuries we have had there’s a lot of young guys stepping up. I’m a senior, I’ve been in their shoes, I know what they’re doing and what they’re feeling. I just try to teach them and get them along too.”

Ogundeji and his fellow defensive ends face a distinct challenge this week in Navy. Navy has thrown the ball just 62 times this year in eight games, opting to keep the ball on the ground almost exclusively in the triple option. This offensive style is physical, and gives the quarterback the power to direct the play as it goes on.

“It’s definitely different,” Ogundeji said. “[Navy plays] the triple option and no other team does that on our schedule so it’s definitely different, but you have to have focus and you have to have attention to detail. The biggest thing is you have to do your job. It sounds cliché but it’s definitely the right thing. You have to know when you have the dive, you have to know when you have the quarterback and when you have the pitch. That’s the big part of beating their offense.”

A triple option team is often only as good as its quarterback, and Navy has found a gem in senior Malcom Perry. He has already rushed for 1,042 yards thus far, getting 6.6 yards per carry and making sound decisions with the football. Ogundeji knows that keeping him contained will be key to victory.

“He’s definitely explosive,” Ogundeji said. “Last time we played Navy he was in the slot and he was moving. Now he’s at quarterback running the offense and he’s definitely explosive. We’ve seen on film that he’s a guy who can do it all. He’s fast and he likes to get in there and be physical. He’s going to be a handful on Saturday, it’s going to be good.”

This will be the 93rd meeting of the schools. It is one of the most storied rivalries in college football and the two sides have built respect for each other over the decades. Ogundeji was no different.

“I have such high respect for Navy’s program, especially from [senior safety] Alohi [Gilman], learning his story and learning his path through here, I have such high respect for them,” Ogundeji said. “They sacrifice so much to get to what they are trying to get to. They are not just regular student-athletes or football players, they do so much. Much more than we do. I have so much respect for those guys, that’s why it’s going to be a big challenge for us on Saturday.”

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