MARIETTA – Besides football, Azeez Ojulari was asked, what is most important to him in his life? The future Georgia outside linebacker quickly ticked off three items: Family. God. School.
“Keeping that a priority, because football can be taken away from you at any time, you never know,” Ojulari said.
That’s what went through his mind late last football season.
Ojulari was chasing a ball carrier from behind, made the tackle, and when he rolled over a Marietta High School teammate hit his knee. The result was a torn ACL that ended his high school career.
“I just tried to get up like nothing was wrong. And I just couldn’t. I went down,” he said. “Then they came and helped me off the field.”
Ojulari had surgery Dec. 15 in Athens and has returned several times to UGA for check-ups and therapy. It was a clean ACL tear, and the recovery timetable is usually around six months.
“I’m confident I can play (this season),” Ojulari said. “I’m just working hard every single day to get back right,” Ojulari said. “Six months, that’s the goal, to play. I’m not trying to sit out the year.”
Richard Morgan, the coach at Marietta High School, basically echoed that. The crowded depth chart at Georgia could mean Ojulari isn’t needed right away, Morgan acknowledged, but the injury shouldn’t be a factor.
— Marietta Football (@MHS_FBRecruits) January 6, 2018
“Twenty years ago you’re thinking, ‘Oh he might have to redshirt.’ But these days, no,” Morgan said. “The quality of doctors he has at Georgia, plus the rehab process, he’ll be running by April.”
It wasn’t his first major injury. Ojulari fractured his tibia as a freshman and also missed six months. That made it easier, knowing he can come through the experience. It also reinforced what he had already thought, and his parents had hammered home, about academics being so important.
What was frustrating is it put him behind in training for UGA. Georgia strength coaches told him to work on his upper body while he waited for his lower body to feel better.
Georgia probably doesn’t need Ojulari right away. Even though Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy are off to the pros, the starting spots are likely ticketed for senior D’Andre Walker and sophomore Walter Grant, with redshirt freshman Robert Beal also in the mix. So are other incoming freshmen.
When Ojulari is ready, his skill-set compares favorably to Carter. He is tall and athletic and a good pass rusher who can catch the ball carrier from behind. Like on what proved to be his final play for Marietta.
Ojulari compares himself to Von Miller, the future NFL Hall of Fame linebacker in Denver, but he also knows there’s room for improvement. He acknowledged he needs to get better when he’s playing inside, or the middle of the field. He knows that Georgia does a lot of blitzing from the inside and stunting, so he needs to get better with that.
Bellamy and Carter didn’t get a lot of credit for what they did containing to the outside, like in the game at Notre Dame, or the first half of the Alabama game. That’s an important part of playing outside linebacker, and Ojulari thinks he’s good there.
“Lateral? I’m good with that,” Ojulari said. “I don’t let anything get outside. I’ve got speed, contain to outside and pass rush.”
Marietta’s Morgan knows a bit about outside linebackers, having coached former Florida State standout Josh Sweat, now in the NFL draft. The comparison to Carter holds up, Morgan thinks.
“He’s so good against the run, and he’s powerful,” Morgan said. “He can do a lot of things. He’s got great speed, too, he’s such a good football player. So yeah, I can see him in that same mold.”