ND’S ‘WU’ AL­READY START­ING TO WOW

DE­FEN­SIVE ROVER GETS RAVES FROM HALL OF FAME COACH AND CUR­RENT IR­ISH AN­A­LYST DUNGY AF­TER DOM­I­NAT­ING PER­FOR­MANCE IN SEA­SON OPENER

Chicago Sun-Times - - NOTRE DAME - BY MIKE BERARDINO @MikeBer­ardino Mike Berardino is a free­lance writer based in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, mak­ing his de­but as a Notre Dame an­a­lyst on NBC last Satur­day, couldn’t con­tain him­self.

The nor­mally re­served and un­der­stated Dungy, a reg­u­lar in the net­work’s “Sun­day Night Foot­ball” stu­dio, mar­veled at the skills of Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Ko­ramoah in his first live look at the fourth-year ju­nior rover.

“This young man is a great foot­ball player,” Dungy said on the air. “They call him ‘Wu.’ I call him ‘Wow.’ ”

Dungy liked that bit of word­play so much he came back to it in the sec­ond half of a 27-13 vic­tory for the sev­enth-ranked Ir­ish in their sea­son opener.

Owusu-Ko­ramoah was an un­block­able men­ace all af­ter­noon. He fin­ished with a team-high 10 tack­les, in­clud­ing seven solo and three for loss, and tacked on two forced fum­bles and two sacks.

It was the sort of per­for­mance that jus­ti­fied a sum­mer’s worth of pre-draft hype for the pro­jected first-round pick. CBSS­ports.com, in a mock draft pub­lished this week, has OwusuKo­ramoah go­ing 32nd over­all next spring.

“Be­ing a hum­ble guy, I be­lieve I can make a play ev­ery play,” Owusu-Ko­ramoah said in the postgame ses­sion with re­porters. “But I can’t do any­thing with­out my team­mates or my coaches.”

A prod­uct of tal­ent-rich Hamp­ton, Vir­ginia, where he re­mem­bers at­tend­ing a mo­ti­va­tional speech from Allen Iver­son at a youth sports event, Owusu-Ko­ramoah gave an in­di­ca­tion of his mind­set when he praised the play of fresh­man end Isa­iah Foskey.

“He’s truly a ball­hawk,” said Owusu-Ko­ramoah, who’s listed at 6-1½ and 215 pounds. “He’s a player that’s locked in. He’s not afraid of this game and the speed of it.”

That will­ing­ness to play fast and with a reck­less aban­don was the ba­sis of the rover’s pregame mes­sage to his fel­low de­fend­ers.

“I got with the de­fense and told them we don’t have time for nerves to­day, we don’t have time for but­ter­flies,” Owusu-Ko­ramoah said. “Foskey is a guy that doesn’t buy into, ‘Oh, I’m ner­vous. I’m go­ing to slow down.’ He’s a guy that’s al­ways ready to go.”

The same could be said of Owusu-Ko­ramoah, who shined as a bas­ket­ball prospect on the AAU cir­cuit, where he reg­u­larly faced older op­po­nents. An all-state de­fen­sive selec­tion at Bethel High, he was feared for his abil­ity to guard any op­po­nent, re­gard­less of size or po­si­tion.

“Who­ever the best player was on the other team, Jeremiah was go­ing to check him and he was go­ing to shut him down,” said Ed­ward Price, a for­mer col­lege line­backer who has trained and coached Owusu-Ko­ramoah since he was 8. “Not be­cause he was big enough. He wasn’t. It’s just that he was strong enough and tough enough.”

On the foot­ball field, Owusu-Ko­ramoah played ev­ery­where from safety and line­backer to re­ceiver and Wild­cat quar­ter­back. Rated just a three-star re­cruit by Ri­vals. com, Owusu-Ko­ramoah also took of­fi­cial vis­its to Vir­ginia and Michi­gan State.

Nag­ging in­juries to his knee, ham­string and foot de­layed Owusu-Ko­ramoah’s rise once he got to Notre Dame at age 17, but he be­gan to make up for lost time in 2019. Although he wasn’t among five Ir­ish play­ers voted a team cap­tain this sea­son, his lead­er­ship role is un­de­ni­able.

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Clark Lea calls him “an in­cred­i­ble ath­lete.”

Blessed with 3-5% body fat, Owusu-Ko­ramoah is a star in strength coach Matt Balis’ weight room. As Price said in a 2019 phone in­ter­view: “His mo­tor never stops . ... He doesn’t be­lieve in stop­ping.”

That re­lent­less at­ti­tude was in­stilled by Bev­erly Owusu, a retired U.S. Army sergeant who raised him and older brother Josh as a sin­gle mother. Josh at­tended Wil­liam & Mary as a pre-med ma­jor.

An Ir­ish group that sent seven de­fen­sive stand­outs to the NFL af­ter an 11-2 sea­son will rely on the tal­ent of its star rover. Should the Virginian have the sort of sea­son draft­niks are pre­dict­ing, a bright fu­ture awaits. ✶

AP

Jeremiah Owusu-Ko­ramoah, who’s pro­jected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, had a team-high 10 tack­les, in­clud­ing three for loss, two forced fum­bles and two sacks in the vic­tory against Duke last Satur­day.

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