Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 3/8, 251 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: With the outgoing transfer of graduate Jay Hayes, Ogundeji moves up a notch on the depth chart at strong-side end. Classmate Khalid Kareem’s spring performance played more of a role in Hayes’ decision, but the result will benefit Ogundeji most, now the primary backup behind Kareem with only a converted linebacker (junior Jamir Jones) and an incoming freshman (Justin Ademilola) behind him.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Ogundeji originally committed to Western Michigan and P.J. Fleck before his profile picked up more attention. In choosing Notre Dame, Ogundeji drove right past Western Michigan, in Kalamazoo, coming from a northwestern suburb of Detroit.
CAREER TO DATE
Ogundeji preserved a year of eligibility in 2016. He arrived on campus with a weight listing of 216 pounds. He needed to add weight in a proper strength and conditioning program. Furthermore, the project partially tore his MCL during his senior season in high school. Spending 2016 on the sidelines allowed that knee to fully heal without requiring surgery.
Last year, Ogundeji appeared in five games, though he made no tackles. All five came in the season’s first half.
When Hayes decided to transfer, Irish head coach Brian Kelly pointed to the push from Ogundeji as a piece of the reasoning. A raw, lean and lanky prospect upon his arrival — and to a degree, still so — Ogundeji had showed both improved strength and understanding this spring.
“His strength is outstanding in the weight room,” Kelly said the first week of April. “His work ethic is outstanding. This is a guy that is ascending for us.
“… We expected the physical development and we knew that the football end of things was the area that was going to require the most work, but he’s putting in the time and I’m pretty excited about where he’s going to be.”
Some of that progress flashed during the Blue-Gold Game, with Ogundeji recording two sacks and six tackles total.
“He’ll be part of our rotation,” Kelly said after the April 21 exhibition. “We’ll need him.
“He’s long, he’s very strong. If you look at his numbers in the weight room, that should translate. He’s been one step behind everybody, just picking up the nuances of the game, and I think it’s coming to him.
“He’s got the physical traits. He’s got the mental traits, too. He’s a really, really tough kid, but just picking up the game, being more comfortable, and confident and as that continues to unfold, you’re going to see him playing some significant football for us.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Falling behind two classmates at his own position (in Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara) makes it hard to expect much from Ogundeji this season aside from perhaps some special teams success. Both Hayes and Okwara excelled in spring practices, making Ogundeji’s path forward even cloudier.
“While he will see the field this season, Ogundeji’s 2017 may hold more resemblance to his freshman season on the sidelines than he likes.”
The fact that Ogundeji moved to the strong-side end spot before Hayes’ transfer bodes much better for his future than if the flip had occurred out of necessity created by the departure. The preemptive move indicates Ogundeji had shown the coaching staff enough immediate potential to mandate they find him a path onto the field in 2018. If he was still nothing but raw talent, then letting him toil away behind Hayes and Okwara would have been largely harmless.
With Hayes now gone, Ogundeji’s moment has arrived, even if in only a backup role. Last year Hayes split those reps with Andrew Trumbetti and Kareem. Some of that rotation had to do with skillset, Hayes being a better run-stopper than either of the other two, but some of it had to do with workload, too. That aspect has not changed, meaning Ogundeji will see competitive action beginning Sept. 1 against Michigan.
If Ogundeji can manage a season stat line combining the best of Trumbetii (28 tackles) and Kareem (three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss) from 2017, that should be considered a success.
Kareem is not yet the size of Hayes, but at 270 pounds he will be more of an edge-setter and run-stopper than Ogundeji will be. To get Kareem some breaks, look for Ogundeji in passing-specific situations. If he can use his athleticism to pressure the quarterback in those spots, Ogundeji will be a vital complement to both Kareem and to the opposite side rushes of Hayes and Okwara.
DOWN THE ROAD
With more weight, Ogundeji can grow into that edge-setter role that Kareem will now need to provide in Hayes’ absence. Until then, he will remain a pass-rush specialist.
The move of junior Jamir Jones from linebacker to end may make such an Ogundeji trajectory manageable. Jones weighs only 242 pounds at the moment, but his weight has trended upward for some time, and an offseason spent focusing on defensive line growth will only further that cause. When Kareem runs out of eligibility a year before Ogundeji and Jones, Jones could fill his half of the role if incoming freshman Justin Ademilola doesn’t.
Notre Dame would undoubtedly prefer Ogundeji become a complete defensive threat, but if added bulk comes at the expense of his athleticism, that trade-off would not be worth it.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman