2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 101 of 163

"Guys who thought they had a free layup, he'd come from nowhere and just erase that shot," said Craig Brehon, Owusu-Koramoah's coach at Hampton (Va.) Bethel High School. Emerging from unseen to game changer is not just reserved for his basketball career. After two years on the bench and zero recorded sta- tistics, Owusu-Koramoah nabbed the starting rover job after a strong 2019 offseason and led Notre Dame with 13.5 tackles for loss, the second-most by an Irish defensive player since 2006. His 80 tackles and 5.5 sacks tied for the team lead. In the span of just a couple months, Notre Dame's linebackers went from massive train- ing camp unknown to one of the team's most stable units thanks to the sudden ascent of Owusu-Koramoah and Mike linebacker Drew White. Owusu-Koramoah is already getting NFL Draft attention as a possible early round pick in 2021. He is explosive and fast, playing with beautiful violence and hiccup quickness. He scoots to ball carriers as if he is a jet stream. Perhaps most importantly to Notre Dame, he is supremely versatile. In modern college football, he is somewhat of a unicorn and the mold of player coaches and NFL teams covet. Rover is Notre Dame's version of a hybrid linebacker/defensive back, a three-level position used with evolving fre- quency to help stop spread and up-tempo of- fenses. Ideally, he can stick with slot receivers and tight ends, is strong enough to play the run and an effective blitzer. Pro Football Focus (PFF) credited Owusu- Koramoah with 107 snaps on the line of scrim- mage, 218 as an off-ball box defender and 352 in the slot. He excelled in all of them. Per PFF, he had 16 quarterback pressures and 5.5 sacks in just 54 pass-rush snaps. Over his final six games, PFF credited him with only 36 yards allowed on 114 coverage snaps. "You always know your ability," Owusu- Koramoah told reporters in October. "It's the people on the outside who don't know. You know what you worked on, what you put in during the offseason." 'An Irritable Player' In every sense, Owusu-Koramoah is the football version of his high school basketball self, deployable in whatever way necessary to combat the opposing offense's biggest strengths. The flexibility he brings requires less frequent substitutions. Every description of his basketball playing style fits his football career, especially this one from Bethel princi- pal Ralph Saunders. "An irritable player," Saunders said. "He's always around. Like, how did he get there?" The 2019 season, though, is what Notre Dame always had in mind for Owusu-Kora- moah ever since former defensive coordinator Mike Elko and then-linebackers coach Clark Lea filched him late in the 2017 cycle. He was the first player recruited to play the rover spot in the defense Elko brought from Wake Forest that offseason and that Lea still employs as the coordinator. Owusu-Koramoah simply needed a little longer to produce it, traveling the Lewis and Clark route instead of taking the EZ Pass lane. But when he arrived, neither he nor anyone at Bethel was surprised. RISING STAR Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah emerged from an unknown to lockdown defender and game changer BY PATRICK ENGEL T he position label next to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on high school basket- ball rosters read guard, which upon sizing him up in warm-ups, seems about right. He was not quite 6-2, but built and with an adequate jumper. It is, though, veritably misleading. A more appropriate one then — and certainly with hindsight now given his current occupation as one of Notre Dame football's best defensive playmakers — would have been "rover." Yes, he was a guard, but his usage only loosely fit the description. Owusu-Kora- moah's job was to defend the opponent's offensive focal point, whether he was a slippery water-bug lead guard, a lengthy wing player or a forward who operated near the basket. High school guards do not typically average a block per game either. 100 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW

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