Listed measurements: 6-foot ¾, 236 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: Though entering his third season at Notre Dame, otherwise known as being a junior, Ekwonu has four full seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver last year.
Depth Chart: Ekwonu took snaps at Vyper end this past spring, a role that puts a premium on pass rush while still needing coverage abilities like those found in a former linebacker. There is potential for Ekwonu at defensive end, but for now, the Irish will lean on junior Isaiah Foskey and sophomore Jordan Botelho.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star and the No. 15 inside linebacker in the class of 2019, per rivals.com, Ekwonu could have chosen Alabama, Auburn or Michigan, but he never let his focus go far from Notre Dame. The No. 232 overall prospect in the class, Ekwonu committed just two months after a springtime official visit, a full six months before he could officially sign.
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
The sooner Ekwonu tells us all what that sunglasses brand is, the better for everyone’s fashion sense.
CAREER TO DATE
Ekwonu has yet to take a snap from scrimmage, so every stat and appearance herein came on special teams. Most notably, he blocked a punt against South Florida last season that Botelho then recovered for a touchdown.
2019: 3 games, 1 tackle.
2020: 9 games, 3 tackles, one blocked punt.
The move up front for Ekwonu is not entirely unexpected. It had been lightly considered in the years preceding new Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s arrival, and given the uptick in linebacker recruiting the last two cycles, the path to playing time there was becoming more and more cloudy for Ekwonu. At defensive end, at least, Notre Dame insists on a heavy rotation, meaning even a third-stringer will see worthwhile playing time.
“We felt like there was a lot of competition at linebacker,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in late April, toward the end of spring practices. “We wanted to get a really good athlete and put him in a position. It’s a very competitive situation for him. We’ll get a chance to see him in the spring game and be able to get a better evaluation in the game.”
Modern roster construction and turnover provide opportunities in all sorts of ways. For some, it comes in the form of a new chance at Colorado. For others, it comes after a former special teams ace transferred somewhere he might start on defense.
Jack Lamb’s transfer westward leaves a hole on special teams coverage, and while that may seem a small role for Ekwonu to blossom in, it is a role, nonetheless.
Lamb made 13 tackles last season. Ekwonu should come close to that number on coverage units alone.
He may not get much work on defense — partly because of the established top duo, partly because a position switch naturally comes with a learning curve, particularly when in a new defense anyway — but any chances there should also yield some quarterback hurries.
Ekwonu arrived at Notre Dame as a seemingly surefire recruit. Waiting this long to get a pertinent chance at playing time was not expected, but it is at least somewhat because the Irish roster has continually improved during this four-year resurgence. That is not a knock on Ekwonu so much as a testament to the last couple defensive coordinators.
DOWN THE ROAD
This may come across more awkwardly than intended, but … Ekwonu has the body of someone who will contribute on a Power Five team before his time is done. There is both explosiveness and speed evident in his little film, and at some point, that will break through.
At Notre Dame, though, that may take a moment. Foskey should at least have to consider the NFL after this season, and if so, Ekwonu’s time waiting could soon come to an end. If Foskey heads to the next level — another example of a player’s body making it clear what his ceiling is, in this case, starting on an NFL defensive line — then the Irish will have only Botelho as an established Vyper.
While early-enrolled freshmen Will Schweitzer and Devin Aupiu will provide depth, Ekwonu will be the more likely No. 2 in 2022. That could, in turn, lead to a starting role in 2023.
— Ositadinma Ekwonu™🇳🇬 (@Osita_Ekwonu59) May 5, 2021
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 38 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 37 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker