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Hungry for more: Jayson Ademilola sparking Irish defensive turnaround

| Friday, October 1, 2021

When talking about the Notre Dame defensive line prior to the 2021 season, the storylines frequently, and understandably, revolved around two key returning starters — graduate students Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. They did not tend to focus on a senior defensive lineman from New Jersey with one career sack over three years in the blue and gold.

And for Jayson Ademilola, that works just as well, with the added underdog edge fueling the “killer” mindset that he and the Irish defensive line bring every day.

“Everyone on this defense is hungry,” Ademilola said. “We’re never satisfied — always working to get better, whether it’s in practice, watching film or in the weight room.

Ademilola has been a spark for a Notre Dame defense that needed some depth after some big names departed for the NFL draft following the 2020 season. The senior defensive lineman has been a key performer early on in the 2021 campaign. He has 19 tackles — 3.5 for loss — and has more than doubled his career sack total with 1.5 over four games. He has also deflected a couple of passes and forced a fumble. Ademilola was particularly needed last Saturday when the Irish faced a lethal Wisconsin rushing attack without graduate student nose guard Kurt Hinish who was out with a concussion.

“You know it’s tough because Kurt is one of our captains and we all love him — he’s well respected in the locker room,” Ademilola noted. “But it’s next guy up. That’s our mentality. Howard Cross is a monster; he’s a beast. We’re both from Jersey, so we’ve got that same mindset and we’re ready to go.”

Ademilola made a bevy of big plays, notching two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Wisconsin, who had nearly 250 rushing yards per game over two contests, notched just 74 on the stat sheet versus the Irish. And the passing attack wasn’t much better, as the Irish notched four interceptions and limited the Badgers to a single offensive touchdown. Around the red zone, Notre Dame stiffened when it counted, holding Wisconsin to a first-quarter field goal and then again stopping the Badgers short of the end zone in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for sophomore running back Chris Tyree’s kickoff return that gave Notre Dame the lead for good.

Ademilola shifted the credit to his teammates and coaches.

“You just have to execute the game plan — the coaches work so hard to come up with it,” he said. “I’m super confident in our abilities as a unit and fully trust in my teammates.”

This Saturday, the Irish need Ademilola to be at his best once more. The Irish defense has forced nine turnovers this season, and against a Cincinnati offense averaging 43 points a game, they need more of the same.

“It’s a new week,” he said. “We gotta keep getting better every week.”

The Irish know almost too much about how quickly defensive fortunes can change. After a dynamic three quarters in the season opener, Notre Dame gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter, necessitating an overtime escape. Against Toledo, Notre Dame again was largely dominant, but they gave up a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Those pair of scores forced Notre Dame into a final-minute game-winning drive to avoid a stunning upset versus the Rockets. In games three and four, the Irish have put together more complete efforts, surrendering just 26 total points to Purdue and Wisconsin. But as Ademilola said, it’s a new week. And a tough one awaits the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. 

The Bearcats present a stiff challenge, and the top-10 battle is the toughest remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule. Last year, Ademilola played a limited role in Notre Dame’s big upset over Clemson in the regular season and in the ACC Championship loss to the Tigers. But against a monster Alabama front in the Rose Bowl, Ademilola shined. His 1.5 tackles for loss and five tackles overall was his signature performance to date for the Irish. And it set the stage for an offseason of improvement.

“Every year, I’ve come to practice working my butt off every day. When the opportunity comes, I’m prepared for it.” Ademilola said of his improvements. “Mentally, I learned a lot more football this offseason — not just D-line, but the whole defense, and what the offense is trying to each play … When the time comes on game day, I’m prepared and confident I can make every play.”

Ademilola also plays with a familiar person by his side for a fair amount of snaps. His twin brother Justin Ademilola has also stepped up in the Irish defensive front in 2021. Justin has 13 tackles and two sacks so far over four games.

Jayson spoke highly of his brother’s contributions.

“My brother has been playing really well this season,” he said. “I’m not surprised at all. He brings a hungry mentality to the defense. When I see him next to me, we just have that go-get-them, killer mindset.”

Jayson also discussed his and his brother’s backround as wrestlers as a contributing factor to their success on the gridiron.

“I feel like I’m wired the way I am because my brother and I were wrestlers from a young age,” he recalled. “You have to have a whole different type of mindset, and I bring that onto the football field. When I’m on the field, I want to make every play. All these guys on defense want to — we’re all hungry.”

Against Cincinnati, the Irish have their work set out for them against a confident Bearcats squad. Quarterback Desmond Ridder allegedly said to a coach in response to a warning about the loud environment in South Bend: “It won’t be loud for very long.”

But Ademilola says the Irish don’t need external motivation.

“We’re workhorses,” he said. “There’s no challenge that we can’t get to — we set our own goals.”

And for Ademilola, there’s no looking ahead. While a breakout season for one of college football’s top programs may justifiably bring draft hype, the New Jersey product isn’t even thinking ahead to past the Bearcats, let alone the postseason draft.

“I’m not sure,” Ademilola admitted about the draft. “It’s too early to tell — all I’m worried about right now is this weekend: a green-out at home.”

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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