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Irish A-to-Z: Romeo Okwara

Aug 3, 2014, 12:39 PM EDT

USC v Notre Dame Getty Images

After spending two seasons in a reserve role at outside linebacker, junior Romeo Okwara moves into the starting lineup at defensive end. The position change puts added pressure on a player who is already halfway through his college career, the product of depth-chart difficulties and Okwara’s surprising versatility.

Capable of playing in space at the dog linebacker position, Okwara will now put a hand on the ground and chase quarterbacks, simplifying his role in the defense with hopes that he’ll be a quick study in Brian VanGorder’s new system and under the tutelage of Mike Elston.

Coming to Notre Dame from the same high school as Prince Shembo, let’s take a closer look at the North Carolina native.

6’4″ 260 lbs.
Junior, No. 45



Okwara committed to Notre Dame the summer before his senior season, an incredibly young player who had size and speed that Notre Dame coveted. The Irish beat out programs like Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and the major in-state programs for the three-star prospect, who filled one very specific model for the Irish defense, even if his position was still in flux.

“When you look at players that have not reached their potential yet, here is a young man just started playing the game just a few years ago,” Kelly said of Okwara on Signing Day. “He’s extremely athletic, love his size, almost 6‑4, 240 pounds, and he’s going to continue to get bigger.  He’s our one, big‑skill player in this group.”



Freshman Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, credited with seven tackles, mostly on special teams. Had a key tackle for loss against Oklahoma, credited with a forced fumble as well. Added a half-tackle for loss against Wake Forest.

Sophomore Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, with a start against Navy. Made 19 tackles, with 1.5 TFLs. Had five tackles against both Navy and Stanford.



Okwara is still incredibly young for his age — he’s just shy of his 19th birthday — which gives you an idea why many fans hoped to put a redshirt on Okwara in his freshman season. But there was just too little depth on the edges of the Irish defense, and Okwara’s skills demanded he be on the field, even if he was stuck behind starters at both the cat and dog position.

Now a defensive end, we’ll get an look at how natural Okwara is rushing the passer. Physically, he looks the part of a defensive end, and he’s got the right length and size that VanGorder can use to both hold the point of attack and crash off the edge. He spent the spring learning on the job, placed into the starting lineup, practically the best evaluation of his upside, if there ever was one.



At a position that still lacks depth and pure pass rushers, Okwara is one of the keys to the Irish defense, part of a group that looks talented on paper, but needs to translate projection to production. With just about every sack on the roster departed after Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt headed to the NFL, Okwara will have every opportunity to start fast and make a name for himself.

If we’re trying to learn something from the spring, Okwara was all over the field in the Blue-Gold game, notching three sacks under rules that should give stats like that zero relevance. But that’s all we have to cling to until we see Okwara take the field against Rice, where he’ll have the first opportunity to put up numbers in VanGorder’s stat-friendly defense.

The coaches believe Okwara can get after the quarterback. If he can’t, there’ll be others getting the opportunity to do it. But after two seasons as a member of the supporting cast, expect Okwara to do a nice job as he steps into the limelight.


The Irish A-to-Z
Josh Atkinson
Nicky Baratti
Alex Bars
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Justin Brent
Kyle Brindza
Chris Brown
Jalen Brown
Greg Bryant
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Amir Carlisle
Austin Collinsworth
Ben Councell
Scott Daly
Sheldon Day
Michael Deeb
Steve Elmer
Matthias Farley
Tarean Folston
Will Fuller
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty
Eilar Hardy
Mark Harrell
Jay Hayes
Matt Hegarty
Mike Heuerman
Kolin Hill
Corey Holmes
Chase Hounshell
Torii Hunter Jr.
Jarron Jones
DeShone Kizer
Ben Koyack
Christian Lombard
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Nick Martin
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Cam McDaniel
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Pete Mokwuah
John Montelus
Kendall Moore
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome

  1. DPU Man ND Fan - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    His level of success this season will be one of the biggest determinants to ND’s overall defensive prospects. Attack the passer and contain rushers from the edge young fella.

  2. getsome99 - Aug 3, 2014 at 2:02 PM

    Okwara will be a beast.

  3. irishdog80 - Aug 3, 2014 at 2:15 PM

    The optimist in me looks at this year’s defense as being similar to the 2012 defense before the season began…lots of athletic new starters with a solid returning starter at each level—Day, Smith and Russel. In 2012, it was the secondary that was being rebuilt with some big question marks. This year it is the defensive line. If Okwara and Jones live up to their ascending performances last year and Williams lives up to his recruiting rankings, the d-line could end up being a strength.

    A high scoring offense and a potentially lock down secondary could play right into this year’s defensive strengths as teams are forced to throw the ball a lot to keep up with our offense. If Van Gorder is able to dial up some hidden exotic blitzes, we may see a lot more sacks and int’s this year.

    Go Irish! Beat Rice!

    • wisner74 - Aug 3, 2014 at 7:09 PM

      I agree with you, Dog, except I believe it is fair to say that this year’s defense also has some big question marks at linebacker. That whole front seven may be a bit of an adventure this year.

    • irishdog80 - Aug 3, 2014 at 10:24 PM

      I agree that linebacker is not quite at the level of the 2012 in terms of returning talent. Smith and T’eo are a wash and if Grace and Councell are healthy they are similar to Fox and Calabrese. Okwara and Shembo are also similar though we are more of a 4-3 this year. The X factor is Nyles Morgan. If he is a productive starter, look out for this year and the years to come.

  4. 25kgold - Aug 3, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    Sometimes the best defense is simply having an offense that can run the score up! If our offense is as explosive as we think it will be, then that will make opposing offenses one dimensional b/c they’ll have to keep up with us.

    They’ll be a lot easier to defend. Plus, if I know BVG–once their offense goes pass only to keep up with us, we’ll be pinning our ears back and rushing the QB every other play! No more waiting on them to bring the game to us, and hoping we get strong in the red zone–those days are OVER!! This will be fun to watch!

  5. fnc111 - Aug 3, 2014 at 3:12 PM

    You can’t miss this guy in the player walk to the stadium.

  6. don74 - Aug 3, 2014 at 6:58 PM

    Posted this on the tail end of the previous article.

    Interesting info from Eric Hansen’s column in the SBTrib.

    “Defensive linemen, even more than linebackers, seem the trickier to project – and that doesn’t just pertain to Notre Dame. Take the 12 players that filled out the defensive line spots on the AP All-America first, second and third teams in 2013.

    Only four of them were four- or five-star and/or top 250 prospects overall. Almost half of them weighed 230 pounds or less when they signed.

    The two biggest eventual surprises were two first-teamers – Pitt’s Aaron Donald, whose FBS offers started and ended with Rutgers, Akron and Pitt; and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam, who was the lone two-star prospect among the 12.”

    • irishdog80 - Aug 3, 2014 at 10:27 PM

      I am betting that 2 or 3 players will have breakout years on the defense to accompany solid seasons by Day, Smith, Russell and Riggs. Best bets are Okwara, Redfield and either Jones or Morgan…if both, the defense could be a lot of fun to watch this year.

  7. succulentnipples - Aug 3, 2014 at 8:59 PM

    Went over the roster today. It’s an improvement. Not much. Hard nipples? No. Need to see improvement for hard, hard nipples.

  8. Laughing Tulkas - Aug 13, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    I still don’t really get how he can be “really young for his age,” perhaps you meant something different that makes more sense? 😀

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