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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 9 Justin Ademilola, fifth-year defensive end, a backup in name only

Notre Dame v Stanford

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Justin Ademilola #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a turnover in a game against the Stanford Cardinal on November 27, 2021 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ¾, 255 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: By the letter of current NCAA eligibility rules, Ademilola has two seasons remaining despite being a fifth-year veteran in 2022. He preserved a year of eligibility via traditional measures as a freshman, playing in four carefully-selected games, and then his full season in 2020 did not count toward his eligibility clock due to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. To put all that another way, Ademilola could theoretically return to Notre Dame in 2023.Depth Chart: More and more it seems Ademilola will work mostly at Vyper end, backing up senior Isaiah Foskey. As he chases Irish records, Foskey is the clear No. 1; this is not even a 1A and 1B scenario. But Ademilola is much more than the usual backup.

He will also play plenty at “Big” end, but the emergence of junior Rylie Mills has turned Ademilola into the swingman between the two positions.

Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect and the No. 34 strongside defensive end in the class, per, the schools chasing Ademilola recognized something the recruiting industry did not. When Clemson, Alabama and Miami offered him a scholarship, the general skepticism was that the offers came as an inducement for his twin brother, defensive tackle Jayson, a much higher-rated recruit.

That was the perception. Given Justin’s first impressions in 2018 — exceedingly positive — and his gradual but consistent development, it would seem by now that perception was flawed, and the schools knew what they might get in the lighter twin.

The first indication Ademilola would be more than merely part of a package deal came when Notre Dame measured his four games in 2018 to have him available — without losing eligibility — in the College Football Playoff, and in many respects, Ademilola was one of the few Irish players who looked like he belonged on the field against Clemson that afternoon.

He backed up both Khalid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji in 2019 and then Ogundeji yet in 2020, future NFL players who should start in front of a developing prospect, and then he worked in tandem with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa last season, though Tagovailoa-Amosa was the official starter throughout the season, again a future NFL player.

2018: 4 games; 9 tackles.2019: 8 games; 9 tackles with one for loss.2020: 12 games; 17 tackles with 2.5 for loss including one sack.2021: 13 games; 35 tackles with six for loss including five sacks and one forced fumble.

Irish head coach Marcus Freeman and a few players have been on a media tour through New York City this week, not an actual NIL event but something that raises the profiles of those players and thus betters their NIL possibilities.

Few teams can boast three better defensive linemen than Foskey and the Ademilola twins. Foskey and Jayson Ademilola, in particular, should be early- to mid-round draft picks, absolutely no lower. A strong season from Justin could ignite some NFL draft conversation around him, too.

For most of the spring, they were referred to as a collective, and that will continue this fall, even when the person talking is one of them.

“The decision to return with my brother and Isaiah to come back was great,” Jayson said in January. “The excitement I have for next season is at an all-time high, just knowing that the guys in the room, we love to go at it. We love to get after the football, we love the game.”

“While Tagovailoa-Amosa did not switch positions as a graduate student to do anything but start and improve his NFL stock, Ademilola has shown too much to be relegated to simple backup status. His 35 career tackles undersell how much Ademilola has consistently held his own as Notre Dame’s bigger end.

“He took 233 snaps in 2020, a number that should cross 300 this year and perhaps near 350. At that point, Ademilola and Tagovailoa-Amosa would genuinely be splitting reps, with any starting defender taking more than 600 snaps considered a full-time player.

“Rather than look at pure tackle numbers, though, Ademilola’s success should be gauged through tackles for loss. As well as he has played in his three years, finding the ball carrier in the backfield only 3.5 times is not enough. The Irish will look for him to reach that number in 2021 alone, if not get to five or six tackles for loss.

“If Ademilola can do that, and then Tagovailoa-Amosa amass an equal number, suddenly Notre Dame’s more physical end position will be more than serviceable, if not back to the standard Kareem set when he made 10.5 tackles for loss on his own in 2018 or when he and Ogundeji combined for 17 in 2019.

“It would be rash to predict such lofty numbers from the present duo, partly because of an honest acknowledgment of talent differentials and partly because new Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman may use three-man fronts in certain situations, perhaps diminishing the chances for Ademilola to wreak havoc.

“But 5-6 tackles for loss would suggest Freeman still enjoys a potent defensive line, one that may have been part of the reason he joined Notre Dame despite overtures from across the country this offseason.”

Do not be fooled by Ademilola’s backup status. As a bit more distinct of a backup last year, he still took 445 snaps. Ademilola gets on the field. In that respect, this is becoming a common theme for the Irish defensive front-seven. Junior Jordan Botelho is too intriguing of a player to be relegated to the third-string, which he would be at Vyper end thanks to Ademilola, so Botelho moved to Rover this spring.

Similarly, Ademilola will split time between Vyper and Big ends so as to make sure Mills sees the appropriate amount of action.

To give 445 snaps some context, Notre Dame defended 888 plays last year.

Thus, it may be tough for Ademilola to see significantly more action. If he, Foskey and Mills form a perfect three-for-two rotation, then each would see close to 600 plays, but that math ignores blowouts and different defensive alignments. Ademilola may top out at 500 snaps.

But look at his career progression in a statistical manner. Each season, Ademilola improves and adds to his impact. From nine tackles in 2019 to 17 in 2020 to 35 last year. From one tackle for loss in 2019 to 2.5 in 2020 to six last year. He simply keeps getting better.

Apply that likelihood to a slightly larger role, and Ademilola could approach double-digit sacks in 2022. As the third defensive end, that would be an absurd accomplishment. In this instance, “absurd” is not so much a reference to Ademilola as it is to the depth of the Irish defensive line.

This is the best position group on Notre Dame’s roster. That is directly a reflection of the Ademilola twins and Foskey all returning for one more season.

RELATED READING: Justin Ademilola’s return gives Notre Dame 2022 defensive line a veteran start

Though perhaps Justin Ademilola opts for two more seasons. As well as Freeman has been recruiting defensive talent, there may be a bit of a vacuum at Vyper end in 2023. The most likely fix is Botelho moves back up to the defensive line, but it could also present a chance for Ademilola to start and star.

Sixth-year players should be viewed as myths until announced in the winter, but a veteran defensive lineman is the kind of possibility every coach would welcome, no matter the crunch it may present to the roster.

Ademilola’s linear statistical growth, applied through 2023, could project to a star, not bad for a player once publicly viewed as a recruiting throw-in.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, freshman cornerback
No. 18 Chance Tucker, sophomore cornerback
No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 17 Jaylen Sneed, early-enrolled linebacker, Rover of the future
No. 16 Brandon Joseph, Northwestern transfer, preseason All-American, starting safety
No. 16 Deion Colzie, sophomore receiver
No. 15 Tobias Merriweather, freshman receiver, forever a memorable recruitment
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, sophomore cornerback
No. 14 Bryce McFerson, freshman punter facing a Harvard challenge
No. 13 Gi’Bran Payne, freshman running back, late recruit
No. 12 Tyler Buchner, sophomore starting QB
No. 12 Jordan Botelho, a defensive end-turned-linebacker
No. 11 Ron Powlus III, sophomore QB providing steadiness to a chaotic room
No. 11 Ramon Henderson, junior cornerback-turned-safety
No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback
No. 10 Prince Kollie, sophomore linebacker, high school Butkus Award winner
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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