Oklahoma v Notre Dame

Irish A-to-Z: James Onwualu


Sophomore James Onwualu was one of three freshman wide receivers to contribute during 2013, a debut season that had Notre Dame’s pass-catching depth chart looking promising for years to come. But in one of the surprises of the spring, Onwualu switched to the defensive side of the ball, a new safety/linebacker hybrid for Brian VanGorder to utilize in his sub-happy scheme.

Shifting from safety to linebacker, spring was spent spent getting up to speed as Onwualu learned a new position. But after successful switches for special teams aces Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth, and Matthias Farley also moving successfully from wide receiver to defensive back, the physicality Onwualu showed as a freshman made the move a natural one.

Let’s take a closer look at the St. Paul native.


6’1″ 220 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 17



Onwualu hails from Notre Dame pipeline Cretin-Derham Hall, and while he wasn’t the level recruit that Michael Floyd or Ryan Harris was, Onwualu was no slouch. A four-star prospect according to Rivals, Onwualu had offers from Michigan and Ohio State (among others), but locked things down early in March when he committed to the Irish.

From there, Onwualu became an early leader in the recruiting class, helping to grow the “Irish Mob” before enrolling in January, the first CDH athlete to ever graudate early. Kelly talked about the versatility in Onwualu’s game on Signing Day, perhaps a sign that this move was always in the back of the staff’s mind.

“This is a very talented player, very talented,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “If you watch him work out ‑ I know Coach Longo has got our guys in there already ‑ really love his athletic ability.  Versatile player, he’s going to be on the offensive side of the ball, but if we ever got into a bind he certainly could play defense, as well.”



Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 12 regular season games, making four starts. Caught two passes for 34 yards. Also contributed on special teams, making six tackles on the year.



While he’s not long and isn’t necessarily the fastest player, Onwualu has great quickness and extreme physicality. He used that as a blocker at wide receiver, and it’ll come in handy as an underneath cover man who will also hold up just fine in the trenches. After seeing linebackers like Prince Shembo and Carlo Calabrese struggle to cover in space, having a wide receiver who started four games at linebacker is an asset that didn’t exist the past few years.

That said, it’s difficult to read too much into the cameo Onwualu had this spring on defense, but fall camp will give him an opportunity to earn a job playing outside linebacker, a starting role that would’ve been tough to imagine Onwualu having on offense, unless it was in a Daniel Smith-like blocking capacity.



If Brian Kelly moves you from offense to defense, there’s usually a good reason. And history has shown the results to work quite well. Onwualu is on track to get into the mix immediately at linebacker, and he’s a productive football player, whether on offense, defense or special teams.

While Onwualu started his career at wide receiver for the Irish, he played everywhere in high school, catching passes, carrying the load and doing whatever else was asked of him. While he was his conference’s leading scorer, his high school head coach Mike Scanlan always thought he could be a very versatile weapon on the defensive side of the ball.

After one season as a receiver, we’ll see what VanGorder does with Onwualu, who should be able to find a specific role in the Irish defense and become an important piece of the puzzle in 2014.



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
Romeo Okwara

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley

Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.


Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson

Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame

Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.