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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: Adetokunbo Ogundeji #91 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts after a play in the first half against the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ⅜, 250 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.Depth chart: Ogundeji would start for most other teams in college football. Without doing a full accounting of the country’s depth charts, probably fewer than two dozen teams can claim a pair of defensive ends better than him, if not only a dozen. Notre Dame can claim three, leaving the Michigan product the backup at strongside end behind senior Khalid Kareem.Recruiting: As P.J. Fleck enters his third season at Minnesota, one thing Gophers fans can bank on is Fleck’s eye for underappreciated talent. Let Ogundeji serve as Exhibit A. He originally committed to Fleck and Western Michigan before his recruiting profile gained broader notice, despite remaining a consensus three-star prospect.

Ogundeji’s counting totals hardly reveal his talent. After preserving a year of eligibility in 2016, he appeared in five games in 2017 without making a mark in the stat book. Last season, he managed 20 tackles, with two for loss including half a sack and a forced fumble, in 12 regular season games.

Then came the Cotton Bowl, where Ogundeji was one of few Irish players to look like they belonged, especially along the defensive line. He logged three tackles with a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry against Clemson.

Playing behind a surefire NFL draft pick, and arguably an early round one at that, diminishes how much time is spent discussing Ogundeji. Why not then turn to that draft pick for some insights?

“Ade’s grinding,” Kareem said at the start of spring practice. “... What he’s doing on the field, he’s definitely going to make a lot more plays this year.

“... You really can’t get a feel for it if you’re only getting 10 snaps a game, but once you’re getting more, we’re going back-and-forth, in-and-out, that’s when he’s going to make most of his plays.”

“With (Jay) Hayes now gone, Ogundeji’s moment has arrived, even if in only a backup role. Last year Hayes split those reps with Andrew Trumbetti and Kareem. Some of that rotation had to do with skill set, Hayes being a better run-stopper than either of the other two, but some of it had to do with workload, too. That aspect has not changed, meaning Ogundeji will see competitive action beginning Sept. 1 against Michigan.

“If Ogundeji can manage a season stat line combining the best of Trumbetti (28 tackles) and Kareem (three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss) from 2017, that should be considered a success.”

Florida State v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 10: Adetokunbo Ogundeji #91 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish forces a fumble by Cam Akers #3 of the Florida State Seminoles in the first quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on November 10, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Ogundeji clearly did not reach those marks, but 23 tackles with 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles was not far off. The difficulty in expecting him to build on those by much is Kareem, as well as senior Daelin Hayes, who will serve as the third end in most passing-specific situations.

Thus, more than the numbers, Ogundeji’s impact may be measured in keeping Kareem fresh in those “back-and-forth, in-and-out” rotations. While there is no way to protect against another sprained ankle costing Kareem some explosiveness for weeks as one did in 2018, keeping his legs from tiring only helps the cause.

Ogundeji should match and perhaps exceed his stat line from last season, but boosting Kareem’s effectiveness will be the most-vital contribution, as intangible as such may be.

Ogundeji will get his chance to star in a year. Kareem, Hayes and Julian Okwara will all be out of eligibility, leaving only Ogundeji and perhaps current senior Jamir Jones as veteran ends. (Jones may play in four games or fewer this season to preserve an additional season of eligibility.)

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has long argued holding onto eligibility for top-flight defensive linemen is a lost cause; if they are talented enough to go pro, they should and will. That was part of the logic in burning a year of Jay Hayes’ eligibility in 2014 due to others’ injuries.

This current crop of defensive ends may have proven Kelly’s theory invalid. In Ogundeij’s case, he will not be NFL-ready after this season. Once a raw, lean and lanky prospect — and somewhat still so — he will need every bit of five years to reach that ceiling, but it is attainable. His improved strength and understanding have been undeniable each year, and continuing that trend into a starting role in 2020 could serve both Ogundeji and Notre Dame as well as ever could have been hoped when recruiting a project like Ogundeji was.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle