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Ogundeji primed to make most of year as captain

| Friday, December 18, 2020

For the past three years, defensive end Ade Ogundeji has quietly built up more playing time and proven himself as an anchor to the Irish defense. Now — with former co-captains Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem having departed for the NFL — Ogundeji, the one-time Western Michigan recruit, is prepared to step into the limelight. Returning as a graduate student, he is excited about the team’s potential for this unique season and honored to have been voted a captain by his teammates.

“It means so much that they voted for me to be their captain,” Ogundeji said. “I’ve been here for a long time and to see the last captains come here and lead the team. I understand how much it means to be a captain.”

A native of West Bloomfield, Michigan, Ogundeji spent his freshman year serving on scout team before finally seeing the field in five appearances during the 2017 season. He continued to work his way up the lineup, appearing in all 13 games his junior season before recording a breakout senior season with 34 tackles, three forced fumbles and 4.5 sacks. While improving his own personal game, Ogundeji has emerged as a key leader for the program and feels confident heading into this week’s opening matchup against Duke.

“I think we’ve done a good job during the offseason to get our guys ready for the weight room, and then right now with training camp, I think we’ve done a good job of accelerating and learning the plays,” he said. “I’m ready. I feel like we’re ready to go out there and play.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish graduate student defensive end Daelin Hayes celebrates in the end zone after recovering a fumble and returning it for touchdown during Notre Dame’s 35-20 win over Virginia on Sept. 28, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Ogundeji credits much of his personal growth on the field to additional preparation watching film and understanding the plays.

“My first year I would say it took me a while to understand what the plays were, even my second year,” he said. “I try to take as much time to watch film, understand what the game plan was, understand how to run plays against the opponents.”

Taking that extra time to fully understand the plays and invest in his football IQ has changed the way he mentally prepares for games, according to Ogundeji. This mental toughness will be particularly important as he — along with fellow graduate student defensive end Dealin Hayes — will be expected to step up in big ways to fill the void left by Kareem and Okwara while also leading a young defensive end unit that includes freshman Jordan Bothelo, sophomore Isaiah Foskey and juniors Ovie Oghoufo and Justin Ademilola.

“They did a good job, physically just getting themselves together and during the offseason, but during training camp they did a great job of learning the scheme, getting it down and playing just fast,” Ogundeji said. “All those guys have done a great job of just playing fast and understanding this scheme. It still takes time but obviously for right now in training camp they did a good job in those things.”

Meanwhile, Ogundeji said he’s spent much of the offseason and training camp focusing on becoming more active around the ball and quicker off the line.

“I worked on my hands a lot, trying to get my hands in the run game and also in the pass game.”

He said he thinks these improved aspects of his game will be useful on third down and can apply to both passing and rushing plays. Ogundeji said fans can expect that high energy from the entire defensive unit.

“You’re going to see against a bunch of guys flying around because that’s what we’ve been teaching the guys is going 100% and flying around for 60 minutes,” he said.

Despite all the question marks that remain heading into this season, Ogundeji’s focusing on staying in the moment.

“We have a great unit right now,” he said. “We have a great group of guys and the brotherhood that we have within this group is amazing, so I think that’s just going to help us toward the season.”

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