Linebacker Azeez Ojulari fastest rising star on Georgia defense
ATHENS — Azeez Ojulari is arguably the most anonymous of Georgia football’s starters, but that means nothing to the fastest rising star on the defensive side of the football.
Ojulari — pronounced Oju-LAHREE — sticks to his game plan of keeping his head down while working hard each day at outside linebacker.
That approach has so far enabled the 6-foo-3, 240-pound redshirt freshman to hold a starting job over the No. 1-ranked prospect in the 2019 signing class (Nolan Smith) and No. 1-ranked junior college transfer in the nation (Jermaine Johnson).
“We have a lot of people in that (outside linebackers) room that are blessed with ability,” said Ojulari, who also competes with Walter Grant, Adam Anderson and Robert Beal each day.
“Everybody is good, so we push each other and learn things from each other.”
Ojulari is clearly one of Kirby Smart’s prized students. The UGA head coach used Twitter on Monday to recognize Ojulari as one of the Bulldogs’ Players of the Week after his six-tackle, half-sack effort in the 30-6 win at Vanderbilt.
— Coach Kirby Smart (@KirbySmartUGA) September 2, 2019
“Effort, toughness, he brings a great attitude every day to work,” Smart said Monday, asked to assess the former 4-star recruit from Marietta. “That guy practices his tail off every day. I thought our defensive staff did a tremendous job of showing clips today where guys had the same practice rep they had in a game, and they used a tool from the practice to help them in the game.
“It is just a great indicator of how practice carries over to games.”
Ojulari’s determination and work ethic was evident even before he saw his first action for the Bulldogs last season.
A torn ACL ended Ojulari’s career in the third round of the 2017 Georgia High School Football Playoffs, and his rehabilitation carried through fall camp and into last season.
“It was a long process for sure, it was just coming in every day keeping my head down to get better,” Ojulari said. “Being that ‘Do More’ type of guy that just came in every day and worked hard, taking it one day at a time and trying to get better every day.
“Taking scout team reps, trying to help the team each week.”
Ojulari wasn’t cleared to hit the practice field until after the season started, and he still wasn’t feeling 100 percent.
A three-tackle effort in the 28-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl provided a glimpse of what Ojulari had to offer, but it wasn’t until spring drills that he truly emerged.
Tailback D’Andre Swift took note.
“He’s plays real hard every down,” Swift said. “He’s a real fast guy who runs to the ball every down and had a great game on Saturday.”
Ojulari believes more great things are ahead, with Murray State up next for Georgia at 4 p.m on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
“We’re just going to keep chopping every day to get better going against the best of the best (in practice),” Ojulari said.
“This team is very special. I believe we can do a lot of great things, we just have to keep taking it week by week, day by day, just enjoy the process and trust the process and keep going.”
DawgNation Murray State week