Notre Dame got some bad news on Friday when Julian Love announced that he would leaving Notre Dame early for the NFL. On Saturday the Irish got a much needed dose of good news when Julian Okwara announced he would be returning for his senior season to fuel the Notre Dame pass rush once again.
— Julian Okwara (@shwaggyj) January 5, 2019
Julian Okwara broke out in 2018 as Notre Dame’s leader in sacks with 8.0 along with defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. The junior from Charlotte, North Carolina has just 2.5 in his career prior to 2018.
With Okwara’s return now official, Notre Dame will have their top three defensive ends back for the 2019 season. Khalid Kareem announced earlier this week that he too would be returning for a senior season instead of leaving for the NFL early.
It’s not clear where Okwara would have been drafted this year if he came out. He was extremely productive as a DROP DE for Notre Dame this year, but he also played this season at a listed weight of just 241 lbs. That would have been much to smaller for DE in the NFL so a future as an OLB would have been in his future. And it still might when he eventually does come out because of his athleticism.
Okwara showed how versatile he is when he dropped into coverage against Michigan and recorded an interception from his defensive end position downfield and right at the sidelines. It was the kind of play that defensive ends just don’t make.
By returning to Notre Dame for his senior season, he has the opportunity to have a monster season. If Okwara puts in the work with Matt Balis this winter and packs on a few lbs to his still lean frame, he could put up some ridiculous numbers next fall. In fact, Just Tuck’s single season sack record of 13.5 is very much in play for Okwara if he continues at his current trajectory.
Notre Dame greatly needed Okwara to return after losing Love and already having to replace Jerry Tillery, Jonathan Bonner, Tevon Coney, and Drue Tranquill. As is, the Irish defense still has to replace five defensive starters from a unit that ranked among the nation’s best this past season.
Defensive end now becomes Notre Dame’s deepest and perhaps strongest position. Who ever saw that coming after years of struggling at the position. With Okwara and Dealin Hayes back at DROP and Kareem and Ade Ogundeji, who is trending very much upward as well, on the strongside, the Irish are deep, talented, and athletic on the edges.
Notre Dame is still awaiting official word from Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin who both are believed to have requested NFL evaluations in December along with Okwara, Love, and Kareem.