In the film room...Julian Okwara

It will be a big year for Notre Dame in their pursuit of defensive ends. Okwara is one of several four-star prospects on the offer sheet, along with expected junior day visitors Josh King (Darien, Ill.), Khalid Kareem (Farmington Hills, Mich.) and Ron Johnson, Jr. (Camden, N.J.).

• Statistics: Credited with 90-plus tackles, 10 sacks, two fumbles forced and three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage during his junior season at Ardrey Kell.

• Assets: Quality athlete who runs well and comes off the edge like a bullet. A natural inclination to chase everything while playing with a physical nature both as a pass rusher and run stopper. Light on his feet with natural pass-rush skills. Blessed with hustle gene and plays hungry. Explosive, ground-swallowing upfield stride.

Plays a physical brand of football beyond his actual strength level. Consistently keeps outside shoulder free from the blocker with the ability to regularly cross the face of offensive linemen. No hesitation chasing the football. Also shows excellent, stop-on-a-dime change of direction.

Has outside linebacker skillset/talent coming out of a three- and four-point stance. Plays off blocks well, keeping head up to make plays while coming off engagement. Narrows gap to the quarterback like he’s been doing it all his life.

• Room for improvement: Just started playing football as a freshman in high school, spending two years on the junior varsity. Has just one year of varsity experience under his belt, although to be fair, he looks much more natural on the football field than his playing experience would indicate. Still very thin, although again, he plays with a level of physicality that belies his short amount of time in the weight room.

• Scholarship offers: Notre Dame. Pac 12: California; ACC: Boston College, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech; SEC: Mississippi, Vanderbilt; Interest: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, LSU.

• Early line: Notre Dame recently joined Okwara’s offer list, which is growing quite rapidly.

Okwara attended (in the stands) two North Carolina games during the 2014 season against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. He also visited North Carolina State for a game against Wake Forest.

He indicated plans to visit Florida State this weekend (Feb. 28), followed by an early-March trip to Clemson. He’s also considering stops at Boston College, Virginia and West Virginia. In January, Okwara said North Carolina and Boston College had recruited him the hardest.

In a Feb. 10 interview with Scout, Boston College appeared to be Okwara’s early leader.

“Boston College is one of the schools that is sticking out more because it was my first offer,” said Okwara to Scout. “I need to get up there to learn what everything is really about and get to know all the coaches.”

Okwara said he was “watching cartoons” during his older brother Romeo’s Notre Dame recruitment, so he’s not that familiar with the school yet.

• ND’s 2015 defensive end recruiting: This is a priority for Notre Dame, so the offers to big-name prospects have been steady. Among the more realistic shots for Notre Dame are four stars Okwara, Auston Robertson (Fort Wayne, Ind.), Josh King (Darien, Ill.), Khalid Kareem (Farmington Hills, Mich.), and Ron Johnson, Jr. (Camden, Jr.). King, Kareem and Johnson are expected to visit for junior day on March 21. The highest-rated defensive end prospect offered by Notre Dame is five-star Nicholas Bosa (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).

• ND’s 2016 defensive end depth chart: By 2016, Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams will be out of eligibility at Notre Dame. (There remains question as to whether Williams will be in uniform in 2015.) Current freshmen Andrew Trumbetti, Grant Blankenship and Kolin Hill (who is a linebacker coming off the edge) will be down to two seasons. Red-shirt Jhonny Williams will have three years remaining while incoming freshmen Micah Dew-Treadway and Bo Wallace will have either three or four years of eligibility.

• Summary: As a long-time evaluator of film, I try to go into each film review with a completely open mind. No predetermined opinions based upon hype or lack there of, the latter of which is more applicable in this situation with the knowledge that Romeo Okwara, the older brother of Julian, had great difficulty learning the nuances of the game at a very early age.

That being said, Julian Okwara’s film – regardless of name or siblings – is very impressive. He looks thin. Check that. He looks skinny, and you know he has a very short time on the gridiron under his belt.

But this kid can play. His knowledge base of the game may be limited in terms of alignments, calls and adjustments. But his natural athletic instincts take over when the football is snapped, and there is a ton to like about him. For starters, he’s one helluva athlete, and he flies around to the football and chases absolutely everything down. Not only is he quick straight ahead, but he shows the ability to stop-start and react to unanticipated maneuvers by offensive players.

Julian Okwara has a chance to a very good college defensive end with, in my opinion, a considerably higher upside than his brother because the physical nuances of football come much more naturally to him. He is a better athlete than Romeo.

Again, the learning curve could be steep in terms of football adjustments to the game as he trends to the next level of play. But athletically, he has all the tools, and if/when the strength catches up, he can be a difference-maker. Working in his favor is a strong man’s mentality despite weighing in at about 210 pounds.

Just because his brother went to Notre Dame doesn’t mean Julian will. By the same token, you’d rather be in Notre Dame’s position recruiting the younger brother of a prominent player on the 2014-15 football teams than the other way around.

Boston College, North Carolina and a few others clearly got a jump on the Irish. He’s also setting his sights on some bigger fish in the pond as his reputation grows. Notre Dame should be able to remain in this competition over the long haul, and depending upon how they fare with the other big-name defensive ends on their board, the Irish can and should remain in the hunt for this talented young man with a very high ceiling.



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