Irish A-to-Z: Romeo Okwara

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For most of Romeo Okwara‘s college career, the defender’s young age was mentioned when discussing the intriguing athlete’s upside. With ideal length, more than adequate athleticism and a skill set that fit in both Bob Diaco and Brian VanGorder’s defense, it was always a wait-and-see proposition for the North Carolina native, who simply needed a few years in Paul Longo’s weight room to catch up to his age.

But Okwara’s a senior now. And even if he’s only now about to turn 21, the clock on his collegiate career is nearly done ticking, making 2015 a critical season for a defensive end who very quietly led Notre Dame in sacks last season, all while learning on the fly.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the key unknowns on the defense.

 

ROMEO OKWARA
6’4″, 260 lbs.
Senior, No. 45, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Okwara committed to the Irish the summer before his senior season, an incredibly young prospect who tantalized the Irish staff with his length and speed. He was a three-star prospect, though had offers from Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and the major in-state programs.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, credited with seven tackles. Made a key tackle-for-loss against Oklahoma. Played mostly outside linebacker.

Sophomore Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, starting against Navy. Made 19 tackles, and 1.5 TFLs. Had season-high five tackles against Navy and Stanford.

Junior Season (2014): Started 12 games, playing in all 13. Led the Irish in sacks with four, made 11 tackles against Purdue, a career-high, leading to a FBS Defensive Player of the Week award. Forced fumble against Michigan.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I’m going to take a little more than partial credit for this, because Okwara did actually lead the team in sacks, even if 4.0 isn’t a number you’re that enthused about unless it’s a grade-point-average.

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.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The future is pretty much now, right? So if you’re looking for a time to expect big things out of Okwara, you’re in a push-the-chips-to-the-middle moment. That said, there might be something to this. Okwara passes the eyeball test. At 6-foot-4, 260-pounds, he’s a great looking defensive end, and certainly a guy you want coming off the bus first.

At times, Okwara was incredibly disruptive—see an 11 tackle game against Purdue. At times, he was completely invisible. That might be a great skill for a Marvel character, but it isn’t for a pass rusher in this system.

I like Okwara and he’ll have a full calendar year in the system. But I also wonder if he’s maxed out his potential. So while it’s tough to see him turning into a early-round draft pick, it’s not ridiculous to think a lightbulb could turn on and he’ll be a productive senior.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I don’t expect Okwara to lead the team in sacks again. But I do expect him to improve on his pass rush numbers. I’ve got him penciled in for a half-dozen, which I think will have him in the team’s top five, but behind at least a few defenders.

We’ll see how things shake out on the defensive front, but it’ll be interesting to see if Andrew Trumbetti takes a big step forward after a nice debut freshman season, or if Okwara grows into a starting role after finally settling into one position.

At this point, it’s not worth looking back at the redshirt season that would’ve done Okwara good. It’s only worth looking forward. And I think the future is bright for a rock-solid senior season and then a shot at playing football on Sundays.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P