Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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16 JANUARY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY ANDREW MENTOCK B rian Kelly stood behind a po- dium as he addressed an au- ditorium full of beat reporters and members of the local me- dia on Feb. 1, 2017. The Notre Dame head coach wore a gray suit jacket, purple tie and bright pink dress shirt, perhaps an attempt to use his chic at- tire to distract the room from the 4-8 campaign the Fighting Irish endured the previous fall. In mid-sentence, his cell phone rang. He paused and looked down at his screen to identify the caller. "I need to take this call," Kelly said, as he began his exit from the auditorium. "Excuse me." Once inside the front entrance of Notre Dame's Loftus Sports Center, a foyer that displays all seven of Notre Dame's Heisman trophies, Kelly an- swered the call from a 2017 prospect. "Well, that's great news," Kelly said, whilst a camera crew filmed the entire stunt. "Great to hear it. Go Irish." He then returned to the auditorium to inform the members of the media in attendance that linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had committed to and signed with Notre Dame. THE PERFECT FIT Such a blatant, pre-planned pro- duction was quite the dog and pony show for a late-addition, three-star prospect. Just one week prior, the Hampton, Va., product had decom- mitted from Virginia after receiving an offer from Notre Dame on Jan. 19, 2017. In-state Virginia Tech never gave him a serious look, and he had just a handful of Power Five offers. But new Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and lineback- ers coach Clark Lea, both of whom had just been hired from Wake Forest, were ecstatic about the mid-Atlantic product. They'd recruited him for the last year at their previous school and felt he was an archetype for the rover position — a hybrid linebacker-safety role — in their 4-2-5 defense. "On defense, he's covered, he's blitzed," Lea said on National Signing Day. "He's played off the edge. He's played deep. He is all over the place. There's something inside of him that's pushing him to another level. He's the kind of guy that, to be honest with you, there will be times where I'm go- ing to have to tell them to pull back. "That's exactly the kind of person you want." Fast forward to 2020, and it's evi- dent Lea's assessment was spot on. That versatile defender he de- scribed four years prior became a consensus All-American, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus Award winner, an accolade bestowed to the nation's top colle- giate linebacker. During Notre Dame's 10-2 cam- paign, he made plays all over the field. He finished with 62 total stops, a team-high 11 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three passes defended, three forced fumbles, two fumble recover- ies (one of which was returned for a touchdown) and an interception. A NEW BREED Owusu-Koramoah is the third Notre Dame player in the last nine years to earn the Butkus Award. Manti Te'o claimed it — and just about every other defensive award in 2012 — followed by Jaylon Smith three years later in 2015. There are numerous differences between Owusu-Koramoah and his Butkus-winning predecessors. Te'o and Smith each won the high school edition of the honor and were consid- ered five-star, can't-miss prospects. They represent the highest-ranked defensive recruits the Irish have signed in the history of Rivals (dat- ing back through 2002). Meanwhile, prior to college, Owusu-Koramoah wasn't even sure what position to play. "Throughout high school I thought I was a safety," he admitted. "I thought I was a corner. I thought I was everything but a linebacker." What Owusu-Koramoah repre- sents is a cultural and academic fit at the University of Notre Dame, who also happens to possess the raw, God-given athletic ability necessary to develop into a defensive Swiss army knife on the gridiron. At some point throughout every press confer- ence, he praises and thanks God for his accomplishments. In addition to his Power Five scholarship offers, he also had the opportunity to play at Ivy League institutions. Thus, what has allowed him to thrive at Notre Dame was a desire to be nurtured as a well-rounded person. "For 'Wu,' his development off the field really has translated into his development on the field," Lea said. "I'm talking specifically just about structuring his day, being on top of all the little things that this program de- mands of you, the attention to detail. "As he's really flourished on this campus, that has absolutely trans- ferred to his on-field performance. So it's allowed him to reach for his potential as a player. And I still think that we're continuing to push for that highest level for him. That's what's exciting for him moving forward." BEAUTY IN THE STRUGGLE To get to this point, Owusu- Koramoah had to begin his Notre Dame career like most three-star re- AMERICA'S TOP LINEBACKER Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah began his Notre Dame career unsure if he was at the right position "He really just has this aura that beams off of him. When you're around him, you just want to jump in and you're just energized by his presence because the way he flies around to the ball, the way he [displays] leadership on the field." SENIOR DEFENSIVE TACKLE MYRON TAGOVAILOA-AMOSA ON OWUSU-KORAMOAH

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