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Justin Ademilola has steadily progressed into one of Notre Dame’s best defenders

| Friday, November 19, 2021

An athlete’s development isn’t always linear. Some players immediately burst onto the scene as superstars, making an impact from day one. Others go through ups and downs before settling in as key contributors. But there’s something to be said for a player who just keeps getting better year after year, play after play, steadily improving to make their mark in the legendary history of Notre Dame football.

Defensive lineman Justin Ademilola is that type of player. A three-star linebacker recruit out of Saint Peter’s Prep in Jackson, New Jersey, Ademilola has consistently worked his way up from a green freshman to one of Notre Dame’s best defensive linemen. As a freshman, Ademilola played in three games, where he worked on the transition from his high school position of linebacker. It was a smooth transition for Ademilola, who quickly showed the Notre Dame coaches and fans his talent with a four-tackle game in his Irish debut at Wake Forest.

His role increased as a sophomore, with Ademilola playing in eight games and recording nine tackles, including his first career tackle for a loss. By his junior year, Ademilola was a regular in Notre Dame’s defensive line rotation. He recorded at least one tackle in nine contests, including Notre Dame’s 47-40 double-overtime victory against Clemson, their rematch in the ACC Championship, and the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Alabama. Defense was a huge part of Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season and return to the CFP in 2020, and Ademilola was right there in the mix. He finished the year with 17 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and his first career sack.

Ademilola has suited up for all ten of Notre Dame’s games so far in 2021, and his stats have continued to impress. He leads the team with 3.5 sacks, including a streak of at least 0.5 sacks in each of Notre Dame’s first three games. His four quarterback hits are tied with Isaiah Foskey and Howard Cross III for second on the team. He has made almost as many tackles so far this year (28) as his first three seasons combined (35). The secret to his improvements?

“Just learning the game as a whole,” Ademilola said. “Learning why we do things the way we do on the defensive side of the ball. That leads to more production, more sacks.”

Erin Fennessy | The Observer
Irish senior defensive lineman Justin Ademilola takes the field during Notre Dame’s 41-13 win over Wisconsin at Solider Field on Sep. 25.

Ademilola’s time at Notre Dame has been so special, not just because of what he’s accomplished, but because he’s gotten to share all of it with his brother Jayson. The two committed to Notre Dame on the same day — June 26, 2016 — and have been by each other’s side their entire time in South Bend. “I’ve been playing with him my whole life. It’s all we know at this point,” Justin said.

As the Ademilola brothers prepare for their final game in Notre Dame Stadium, they do so as two of Notre Dame’s most dependable defenders. The brothers rank two and three in tackles among Notre Dame’s defensive linemen, trailing only Isaiah Foskey. Jayson holds a nine-tackle edge, but Justin has an extra sack to his credit (which he made sure to note). The Ademilolas are also two and three in that department among all Irish defenders, once again trailing only Foskey. Their sibling rivalry may not be the most intense one, but it’s pushed both players.

“Sometimes we get competitive,” Justin admitted. 

Even now as a starter, Ademilola hasn’t lost track of the little things that make Notre Dame so special. “As a freshman, I was looking forward to the relationships with my teammates and some of the guys in my class, kids in my dorm,” he said. “As I’m a senior, I’ve made some relationships that are gonna last a lifetime.” Ademilola mentioned Ade Ogundeji, Khalid Kareem, and Julian Okwara all three of whom are currently in the NFL as some of the teammates who had the biggest impact on him. “They’re my brothers,” he said. His favorite moments at Notre Dame aren’t his time on the field, but Thursday nights before games with his friends and teammates. “Me and the guys will go out to dinner. We usually go to Soho (Japanese Bistro, in Granger), me and my roommates, and a few other teammates. The brotherhood is strong,” he said.

Just as strong as Ademilola’s career at Notre Dame. Whether it be relationships or football, playing on the weak or the strong side of the field, and no matter the opponent, Justin Ademilola has made the most of every moment he’s spent in South Bend. That’s what happens when you improve one play, one connection, and one moment of a sibling rivalry at a time.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a sophomore from Haddonfield, New Jersey, a short drive away from Philadelphia. Naturally, he loves all of his Philadelphia sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Feel free to reach out to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Ted Lasso or Survivor.

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