Adetokunbo Ogundeji can look at perhaps the most trying time of his high school football career in a positive light.
Not that it was always easy. Ogundeji, a three-star defensive end from Walled Lake, Mich., played four games during his senior season before a knee injury cost him the rest. He watched from the sidelines as Walled Lake Central struggled to a 1-10 record.
“It was tough,” Ogundeji said. “I’m not gonna lie, in the beginning it hit me hard. It hurt. You always want to be out there playing your senior season because you wanna prove you’re the best. You wanna prove that you’re good. At the same time, I just think guys were playing for me and I hope that I come back faster and stronger than before.”
Ogundeji didn’t dwell on the losses or his inability to help turn things around.
Instead, he turned his attention to rehabbing a partially torn MCL that didn’t require surgery. Ogundeji strengthened his quad, did box and broad jumps and hundreds of leg extensions. He’s since been fully cleared.
In fact, Ogundeji believes time away from the field might have improved his game overall. He’ll sign with Notre Dame today at about 228 pounds and with more knowledge of the game than ever.
Might Ogundeji have developed more while playing games? Sure. But he doesn’t necessarily view it that way.
“I don’t want to say I was hampered by my injury because I wasn’t,” Ogundeji said. “Everything happens for a reason and for me I really just got to work on technique. I watched a lot of film during the time that I was injured, watched a lot of college ball. I even got stronger than I was last year. It worked out as a benefit to me as an individual. I learned a lot more about football than I usually do when I’m playing.”
Friday nights may have been most difficult — Central won its only game of the year with Ogundeji out of the lineup — but he tried to make the most of them. Ogundeji came to see the game differently from the sidelines.
“When you’re playing football you don’t really get to see the things that you’re doing,” Ogundeji said. “When I was injured, I got to see my teammates and not only the things that they did wrong but the things that they did right. You just don’t look at the scoreboard. You look at the detail things like what we did wrong or what other players did against us. I learned a lot.”
Ogundeji, who committed to Notre Dame in July, kept in touch with the Irish staff throughout the rehab process. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, the primary recruiter, offered support and guidance throughout.
Gilmore visited again last week to prepare Ogundeji for National Signing Day.
It was Gilmore who worked out Ogundeji during summer camp, leading to a scholarship offer the prospect would soon accept. Buffalo, Cal, Miami (Ohio), Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Toledo and Western Michigan had also offered.
Ogundeji originally committed to Western Michigan last March before reevaluating the process.
“It was amazing to be honest with you,” Ogundeji said. “When I went to Notre Dame, I actually wasn’t thinking about going to Notre Dame. My first thought wasn’t going to Notre Dame. I just came back from a throwing competition and I was doing a lot of stuff. I was like, ‘OK, let me just go.’ My coach wanted me to go. I went down there and I did a couple drills with the coach. I didn’t expect to get an offer.
“They told me they would look at my film and a couple days later I got an offer. I’m just happy and I’m blessed. I’m excited they gave me one. I don’t think they wasted any offer on me. I’m gonna put in as much effort as I can.”
Gilmore adds Ogundeji to a defensive line class that includes four-star prospects Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara. Three-star Jamir Jones and four-star Daelin Hayes, both listed as linebackers, could shift to defensive line in time as well.
Hayes and Kareem, also Michigan products, are already on campus as early enrollees.
Ogundeji feels prepared, even after an injury setback, to compete with his classmates for playing time down the road. In doing so, he wants to validate the offer Gilmore made.
“I feel like they picked me for a reason,” Ogundeji said. “They offered me for a reason. They don’t just offer any person for no reason. I feel like they offered me for a reason. I want to put as much effort in as I can to prove them right, to make them happy. I’m gonna put as much work in, all the time in the world if I have to, just to do what they want me to do.”