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Freshman Focus: James Onwualu

James Onwualu

Hailing from the same high school as Michael Floyd, Ryan Harris and Rashon Powers-Neal, Cretin-Derham Hall looks to have been kind to the Irish football program again with the addition of wide receiver James Onwualu.

The early enrollee freshman jump-started his college career by joining the team for spring drills and immediately made his mark as a strong and powerful receiver that has the ability to play a hybrid role as a ball carrier as well.

Any comparisons to Floyd would be unfair and premature, but there’s a similar work ethic in Onwualu, who also brought his enthusiasm to the recruiting trail, barnstorming across the country to camps and combines, always working to help build the “Irish Mob.”

Let’s take a closer look at Onwualu.


The more talent evaluators got to see Onwualu, the more they liked him. As a guy that’s a bit of a tweener on the field, Onwualu doesn’t necessarily have the best top-end speed or measureables. But after working the camp circuit and playing a very impressive senior season, Onwualu worked his way up recruiting lists, ending up a highly respected four-star recruit by Rivals and a fringe top 250 player.

With an offer list that’s equally impressive, Onwualu committed to Notre Dame in March and turned down offers from a diverse list that includes Arizona, Cal, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Stanford, and UCLA.


There’s room on the field for Onwualu immediately, with only TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels proven commodities. After fifteen practices, the coaching staff raved about the freshman’s physicality, and even though Onwualu had never officially lifted weights before heading to South Bend, his work with a performance strength coach had him explosive and ready for the transition to college football.

Where Onwualu slots into the Irish offense should be interesting. He’s a bit of a Swiss Army knife, and could likely grow into a 230-pound guy after a few years in Paul Longo’s strength program. He could find himself as an outside receiver, but was often times at his best as a running back in high school. (Speaking to his high school coach, he thought Onwualu could be a great safety or hybrid OLB as well.)

With the Irish offense still looking to add playmakers in the passing game, Onwualu will likely see the field as a freshman. How big of an impact he makes? That’s the question.


The Irish know they got themselves a good leader and football player in Onwualu. Whether that translates to a guy that’s a special teams ace, explosive offensive weapon, or even a defensive player remains to be seen. How big Onwualu grows will play a part in where he ends up playing.

With the slot receiver position continuing to be redefined by the Irish’s personnel and schematic tweaks, using Onwualu as a jumbo sized Z receiver is an intriguing option and probably part of the reason Kelly and his offensive staff visited with Bill Belichick and the Patriots this offseason.

Developing in a elite high school program that provides college-ready players will help Onwualu early in his career. (So will the depth chart.) But how he evolves as a player will likely determine where he makes his mark on this roster.