2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 92 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 91 BY TODD D. BURLAGE F ate has a funny way of providing folks with drastically different routes to the same place. Such is the case for Notre Dame's two 2020 starting defensive ends, fifth-year seniors Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji (pronounced OH-gun- day-gee). There are, though, some things the duo has in common. They both grew up in Michigan only about 25 miles apart near Detroit. Both were class of 2016 high school recruits. Each flipped a verbal commitment from another school to attend Notre Dame. And both decided to come back for a fifth season in 2020 to claim leading roles after spending the last two years as supporting cast members for recent NFL Draft picks Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem. But that is where the similarities end. Hayes was all football all the time growing up, becoming one of the best prep linebackers in the country. Ogundeji's family emigrated from Nigeria to the United States, and he didn't even play organized football until the eighth grade. Hayes was ranked by Rivals as a five-star recruit and the No. 1 player in the state of Michigan. His offer sheet was highlighted by Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, Michi- gan, Ohio State and USC, and he originally committed to the Trojans. A late bloomer, Ogundeji was considered more of a project and held offers from Mid- American Conference schools, including Buffalo, Miami (Ohio), Toledo and Western Michigan, committing at first to the latter. Differences aside, Hayes and Ogundeji share a common goal this season. They want to make their defensive end tandem as good as — if not better than — the Okwara and Kareem duo of 2018 and 2019. Far From 'Home' Ogundeji wasn't born in Nigeria, the African country where his parents grew up and eventu- ally met and married. But the budding Irish star with the Scrabble- winning name did get a real-life and impactful look into his heritage as a sixth-grader while spending several months in Nigeria on a fam- ily visit. In about 2007, Ogundeji traveled "home" for his grandmother's birthday and a family reunion. Ogundeji's mother is one of eight children and his father is one of six, so festival might fit better than reunion. "I have tons of cousins," Ogundeji said with a laugh late last season when asked about his robust family tree. "Still to this day, anytime it's Christmas or anything, we get a bunch of phone calls from all of our family. "We try to stay close even though we are so far away. It's important to us." Memories of the unbreakable family bond that Ogundeji witnessed 13 years ago during his trip to West Africa still stick. Referencing his family's humble roots, Ogundeji told a story of how one uncle shared a small apartment with about 10 relatives, hap- pily and comfortably. "It showed me what it means to be a fam- ily and what it means to have togetherness," said Ogundeji, celebrating the sacrifices his extended family members gladly make living in tight quarters. "I learned a lot there. And when I got back here, it showed me all the hard work it takes to move here and chase your dreams." Looking to make a better life and escape the tough living conditions in Nigeria, Ogundeji's parents took a chance and moved to the United States shortly before Adetokunbo — the mid- dle of three sons, whose name translates to "king from across the seas" — was born. The family settled in West Bloomfield, Mich., where Ogundeji's father, Dapo, worked as a physical therapist. "He was the first from our family to move to America," Ogundeji said. Staying true to his culture, the younger Ogundeji dutifully dabbled in youth soccer as a grade schooler, but quickly lost interest. "I was reckless," he joked. "I got a lot of red cards." Football, obviously a better fit, didn't come along until the eighth grade when Ogundeji started playing it with friends. "We're from Nigeria," he said. "They really weren't into football there. When I actually started picking it up, it was a pleasant surprise to my family." The rest, as they say, is history. Ogundeji steadily improved as a player dur- ing his four years at Walled Lake Central High School to earn and accept a scholarship offer to play at Western Michigan under then-head coach P.J. Fleck (now at Minnesota). Then a later offer from Notre Dame caused Ogundeji to flip his commitment. "It was impossible to say no to a school like Notre Dame," he said. From there, this project player has turned himself into a peak performer along the Irish defensive line and a legitimate NFL prospect. Through hard work, patience, commitment and trust, Ogundeji has created the opportunity that 2020 presents him, but stays humble and genuine. "People ask me all the time who my role model is. It is definitely my mom and dad," Ogundeji said. "They had to take a chance and come here to a big unknown country and try to start a family. I can't thank them enough." Overcoming and overachieving have be- come an overriding theme during Ogundeji's football career. Coming from a high school not known for producing premier college talent, Ogundeji remained anonymous and barely a blip on the recruiting radar, even with a 6-5 frame, a size 18 shoe and the long limbs college strength coaches dream about sculpting. In fact, about the only college scholarship offer Ogundeji carried for several months was the one from Western Michigan that came dur- ing his junior year of high school. However, marked improvement, intriguing potential and a solid camp tour in the summer of 2015 before his senior season unexpect- edly lifted Ogundeji's recruiting profile and reshaped his college plans when Notre Dame extended a scholarship offer. "I definitely was shocked," said Ogundeji, who landed his Notre Dame offer after an Irish summer camp. "I didn't really expect it. All my offers were kind of a shock to me." Wanting surety that the Irish coaches ALL'S WELL That Ends Well Fifth-year defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji took different paths to arrive at the same place

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