Although senior defensive lineman Ositadinma Ekwonu has had to endure some injuries during his time at Notre Dame, he has still emerged as a leader on and off the field for the Irish.
Ekwonu truly has embraced the Notre Dame spirit during his time here. He described how the people at Notre Dame are what sets it apart from other schools he considered during his recruiting process in high school.
“I think the most special thing about Notre Dame is all the really great people I have met along the way,” Ekwonu said. “The people are what set Notre Dame apart from other schools.”
One of the highlights from Ekwonu’s career came in his sophomore season against South Florida where he recorded two solo tackles and blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by now junior linebacker Jordan Botelho.
Ekwonu explained the emphasis on special teams at Notre Dame and why the unit has found so much success this year.
“The emphasis here is that we put our best players on special teams,” Ekwonu said. “It really helps us change the game on that side of the ball. Practicing and preparation has helped us affect the game and get a lot of blocked punts.”
Blocking punts became a frequently-used tool for the Irish this year, especially present in the most recent home game against Clemson. For Ekwonu, both wins against Clemson were his most memorable games.
“I would definitely say both Clemson home games are the most memorable. Just coming in as underdogs and holding our own and then storming the field. Those were both pretty good games,” Ekwonu said.
Ekwonu tore his achilles last year which preceded a long recovery before the lineman could be back on the field.
“Thankfully, I am healthy now, but it was a long recovery process,” Ekwonu said. “Right now I am just getting back into the motion and swing of things.”
In light of his injury, Ekwonu has embraced his leadership role as a senior, and he has enjoyed helping out his younger teammates in every aspect of the game.
“I definitely try to help the younger guys that come to me with questions on special teams, and I try to give them advice,” Ekwonu said. “It’s a hard process being here because you are challenged on and off the field.”
Ekwonu stepped into the “For the Brotherhood” culture of Notre Dame after playing in high school with his brother Ikem. Ikem played college football at UNC and while Ositadinma said it was different, it didn’t disrupt their relationship not to play together.
“It was definitely an adjustment because we used to do everything together. We actually considered attending the same school, but it just didn’t work out,” Ekwonu said. “We always stayed in touch and talked all the time and we still are as close as ever.”
In his time with the Irish, Ekwonu saw the defensive coordinator hat pass from Clark Lea to Marcus Freeman and from Freeman to Al Golden. He said the transition has never been too difficult for him and his focus is learning the new play book in those transition moments.
“It’s really just learning the playbook as it comes. There have been three different defensive coordinators since I have been here and the main difference has just been learning the playbook as it comes,” Ekwonu said.
With the play book down for Golden, Ekwonu hopes that the Irish can start fast in their remaining two regular season games and bowl game to finish the season on a high note.
“We’re just trying to start fast and play hard in the remaining games we have and win out the rest of the season,” Ekwonu said. “That starts with Boston College and then USC and then our bowl game.”