Georgia football leadership blooming, Azeez Ojulari among Freshman of Year semifinalists

Georgia-UGA-Azeez Ojulari
Georgia redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari came through with a key sack against Florida, setting the tone in a 24-17 win.

ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart is looking for more leaders like outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who was named one of seven semifinalists for the FWAA Freshman of the Year Award on Monday.

Ojulari, a redshirt freshman from Marietta, led the Bulldogs with an eye-popping 36 QB pressures and was also the team leader with 4 1/2 sacks.

“He’s played well, he’s one of the hardest workers,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said earlier this season. “He’s kind of the leader of that outside linebackers group, he never says a dang word, he’s just a great kid.”

It was at this time last year that Smart shared how Ojulari, who missed most all of the season coming off ACL surgery (Dec. 15, 2017), was standing out in Sugar Bowl practices.

RELATED: Smart identifies Ojulari among bowl practice standouts

The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs are getting ready for this year’s Sugar Bowl against Baylor and surely hoping more players like Ojulari emerge.

Ojulari was critical to UGA’s defensive success this season.

It was a Georgia defense that led the SEC in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and ranked among the Top 15 in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

• Kedon Slovis, University of Southern California, Quarterback — Slovis was named the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year. He finished the regular season ranked fourth nationally in completion percentage (71.8) and eighth nationally in yards per game (294.7). His 515-yard performance against rival UCLA made him the first USC quarterback to throw for 500+ yards in a single game, and his current streak of three consecutive games with 400+ passing yards is a school record.

• Derek Stingley Jr., Louisiana State University, Defensive Back — Stingley led all freshmen with six interceptions this season, including two against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. He was named the Freshman of the Year by Pro Football Focus. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., Stingley has helped his hometown team to a 13-0 record and No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.

• Kenneth Gainwell, University of Memphis, Running Back, Redshirt — Gainwell was named the American Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year for his performance this season. His 1,425 rushing yards rank first among freshmen and eighth nationally. He has amassed 1,957 yards from scrimmage, which also ranks first among freshmen and fourth nationally. Gainwell recorded 200+ yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games against Louisiana-Monroe (251), Temple (204), and Tulane (307). His efforts helped Memphis claim a New Year’s Six bowl berth, their first in school history.

• Jayden Daniels, Arizona State University, Quarterback — Daniels compiled 2,748 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, and just two interceptions this season. His 8.9 yards per attempt ranks 13th nationally. He also added 319 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Daniels threw for a season-high 408 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a victory over then-No. 6 Oregon on 11/23.

The three finalists will be named after Jan. 1.

The FWAA Freshman All-American team and player of the year will be named in New Orleans the morning of the CFP Championship Game at the annual FWAA Awards Breakfast.

Azeez Ojulari, 2 sacks vs. Tennessee

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