Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 6, 2021

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

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58 NOV. 6, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH IN THE PROS BY TODD D. BURLAGE B ased on first impressions and a keen coaching eye test, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees recog- nized the moment Adetokunbo "Ade" Ogundeji walked in the facility door last summer to begin rookie camp that he would someday have a special player. But Pees also realized that develop- ing Ogundeji into a viable every-down h yb r i d d e fe n s ive e n d / l i n e b a c ke r wouldn't happen overnight at this level. In the same way Ogundeji had to work for five years, learn and wait his turn to become a star defensive lineman at Notre Dame last season, the same de- velopmental process awaits the fifth- round draft pick in Atlanta. "It's like any rookie, there's a lot to learn and you're seeing everything kind of for the first time," Pees said of Ogundeji's development through the first half of this NFL season. "It just takes a while. But I think for what we ask of him and what we've expected, he's living up to expectations." The development plan for Ogundeji became accelerated when a knee injury sent Falcons starting linebacker Dante Fowler to injured reserve for three games and moved Ogundeji into a start- ing spot and a more primary role. With Fowler sidelined Oct. 10, against the Jets, Ogundeji played the most snaps of the season (30) and responded with two tackles, one tackle for loss and his first NFL career sack, a moment he'll cherish forever. "It was crazy," Ogundeji recalled. "Getting your first sack, it definitely means something special. I'm just try- ing to keep working and get some more." Speaking of work, it's Ogundeji's in- satiable desire to always get better that made him an attractive draft pick for the Falcons and one of the most rapidly improving players on the team. "I'm really pleased with [Ogundeji]," said Ted Monachino, the Falcons' out- side linebackers coach "Ade is an over- achiever, which is huge, that's a good trait. We all understand that there are people that overachieve and under- achieve." And one game after recording his first sack, Ogundeji posted his first career blocked field goal in a 30-28 win over the Miami Dolphins Oct. 24 — the first blocked field goal for the Falcons since 2013. "I definitely try to focus on those positive plays," said Ogundeji, who in six games this season had seven tackles (five), two tackles for loss and one sack. "But I think for watching a game, I am more focused on the things I didn't do well. Things that I could work on." At a lanky 6-foot-4 and 268 pounds, Ogundeji features the perfect physical build that NFL franchises crave from their defensive edge players. Up next for Ogundeji is to master the finer points of his craft, such as foot- work, pass coverage and increased film study. "So, for me, it's just working on those things constantly," Ogundeji said. "So that when that happens in the game, it's just natural. You're just going out there playing." A LONG JOURNEY Ogundeji's rise from a spindly, under- sized, 211-pound, 17-year-old freshman at Notre Dame in 2016 to an Irish cap- tain in 2020 and eventual draft pick was equal parts methodical and unlikely. A three-star recruit out of West Bloomfield, Mich., Ogundeji received few scholarship offers and had origi- nally committed to Western Michigan before Notre Dame came calling and flipped him before his high school se- nior season after a summer camp visit. Interestingly, Ogundeji grew up only about 40 minutes from the University of Michigan but never received much interest or an offer from his home-state school. Five years later, Ogundeji became the eighth of nine Irish players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. "It's been a very long journey," Ogundeji said last December before his final Notre Dame home game. "I've been very blessed to be in this position with so many guys that came through here." A late arrival to football — Ogundeji didn't pick up the game until the eighth grade — the former Irish lineman with the Scrabble-winning name was the definition of project player as an Irish freshman in 2016. "I was just getting used to the game," said Ogundeji, who lost even more de- velopmental time in high school when Ogundeji recorded seven tackles, one sack and a blocked field goal — the first for the Falcons since 2013 — in his first six NFL games. PHOTO BY DAKOTA WILLIAMS/ATLANTA FALCONS Adetokunbo Ogundeji Seizing His NFL Opportunity

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