Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2024

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

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14 MARCH 2024 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TYLER HORKA T here's some irony in RJ Oben end- ing up at Notre Dame. Coming out of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep, the former Duke defensive end always had a goal to be an elite college football player at a blue blood program in the sport. Some of his team- mates there had the same visions — and realized them a lot sooner. St. Peter's Prep products Justin Ademi- lola, Jayson Ademilola and Shayne Simon all signed scholarship offers from Notre Dame in the recruiting class of 2018. One year later, Oben would've loved to reunite with that trio as a class of 2019 signee. There was just one problem. A major one. "Notre Dame had not offered me at that point," Oben said. And Notre Dame never did. Five years later — and well over 12 months removed from either of the Ademilolas playing a down for Notre Dame and over 28 since Simon wore the Blue & Gold in an actual game — Oben is getting his shot at glory at one of the most famed institutions in the country. "I feel like I've had a connection to this place for a long time," Oben said. Notre Dame wasn't a dream destina- tion for Oben. He just wanted to make an impact somewhere, and he definitely did that at Duke with 18 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in the last three seasons. Oben was nothing more than a depth piece for Duke in his first two seasons, but he came on strong in the most recent three. He's following the career arc of the very man he's replacing on the Notre Dame depth chart: Javontae Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste didn't do much defen- sively initially at Ohio State. His later years there were his best. He still wanted more for himself, though, so he trans- ferred to Notre Dame with a near guar- antee he'd start considering the way the roster was shaping up at strong-side defensive end for the 2023 season. Jean- Baptiste did start — all 13 games, includ- ing the Sun Bowl — and led the Fighting Irish with 10.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. He parlayed a successful season into a strong week at the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., earlier this winter. Barring a major setback at the NFL Combine or in the months leading up to the NFL Draft, Jean-Baptiste should find a next-level home by the end of April. That's an arc Oben wants to keep mir- roring. "I definitely was in close connection with him," Oben said of Jean-Baptiste. "He went through a similar process last year — leaving after his fifth year and de- ciding go to the portal and take advantage here. They were able to show me how they were able to develop him. They showed me tape of where he was at when he first got there versus the ways they developed his technique and made him a better player. It gave me all confidence that I'll be able to do the same thing." FIT TO BE A GAME-WRECKER Oben is looking forward to taking full advantage of his time in South Bend. He wants everything that comes with being a Golden Domer, all the way down to going against some of the best offensive line- men in the nation. If he had it his way, he would be lining up across from potential top-10 draft pick Joe Alt, who would be preparing for his senior season. "I wish he would have stayed so we could have gotten some of those battles in practice," Oben said. MADE FOR THIS RJ Oben took the long way to get to Notre Dame, but now that he's there he's going to give the Irish all he's got New Notre Dame defensive end RJ Oben had 18 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in his last three seasons at Duke. PHOTO COURTESY DUKE ATHLETICS

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