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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 10:00 pm

Julian Okwara ready to make impact for Irish

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame's top three defensive ends are, in some order, Daelin Hayes, Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti.

However, given the importance of pass-rushing depth, one of the team's goals this preseason was to identify another edge rusher, and Julian Okwara might be that guy.

As a freshman in 2016, Okwara played in 11 games and made just four tackles, so he needs to make a significant jump, but the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is confident he can pressure the quarterback.

"I would say my speed (and) being able to get off the ball are definitely my biggest strengths," Okwara said. "In the spring, we were getting into a new playbook, a new everything, so over the course of the summer and everything I tried to get a lot more time in my playbook getting to know the defense and more time in the film room, just trying to work on everything I can to get better."

Just like Okwara, fellow sophomore Khalid Kareem and freshman Adetokunbo Ogundeji are fighting for backup roles at defensive end, so Okwara embraces their competition entering Saturday's season opener against Temple.

"We encourage each other," Okwara said. "When one of us makes a play, we congratulate each other. We work together and try to make plays when our name's called."

Okwara went to work on his body this offseason and said he feels stronger and more prepared to handle the physical rigors of the college game. Still, he's 50 pounds lighter than many of the offensive linemen trying to block him.

"My speed (is key)," Okwara said. "If I come off before he gets up, then I can definitely strike him, hold my ground, be able to set my feet. I have got to work my hands, just do something to get off."

If Okwara fully harnesses his natural athleticism, he might soon be known for more than just being the brother of former Irish starting defensive end Romeo Okwara.