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 Owusu-Koramoah 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.
Mike Berardino is a freelance writer based in South Bend.