ATHENS — In a linebacker room loaded with multiple 5-star prospects, it can be easy to overlook redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari. Especially given that he missed most of his freshman year due to a knee injury he sustained as a senior at Marietta High School in Marietta, Ga.
But when teammates and coaches describe the redshirt freshman, it’s clear he’s going to be a key piece for Georgia in the 2019 season.
Related: Azeez Ojulari continues to standout in loaded outside linebacker group
“Azeez is just a tremendous player,” redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes said. When we went out to Pensacola, [Fla.,] I got closer with Azeez and really just every day, I’m falling more and more in love with him.”
Ojulari reiterated multiple times on Thursday night that hard work is something he values a lot. When speaking about how he’s seemingly been able to jump to the top of the depth chart at outside linebacker, he mentioned hard work multiple times.
Ojulari played in only three games prior to the Sugar Bowl last season. But he made the most out of the extra practices a season ago and played meaningful snaps in the loss to Texas.
While Ojulari spent much of the season recovering and trying to rebuild his game, he said he just wanted to keep working hard the entire time.
“I just kept my head down and kept working,” Ojulari said. “Just trying to do whatever I can for the team to get better. Really just help the team out last season.”
Of course, hard work isn’t the only reason he’s wowed people around the Georgia football program. He routinely matches up against Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, two of the best tackles in the SEC.
And while some might get frustrated when they get stonewalled by either elite tackle, Ojulari chooses to look at the bright side of playing against two guys who might be better than any offensive tackle he sees during the regular season.
“It’s not frustrating because I know I’m getting better every day,” Ojulari said. “They’re helping the whole group get better every day. It’s a blessing.”
Ojulari is also getting some unique coaching tips from someone who knows what it is like to play the outside linebacker position at a high level for Georgia. Jarvis Jones — a former All-American and first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers — is working with Georgia as a student assistant.
If there’s anyone who knows what it is like to pressure opposing quarterbacks, it’s Jones. In his time at Georgia, he racked 28 sacks in his two seasons with the Bulldogs. And as Georgia has put a greater emphasis on creating havoc plays, Jones’ expertise is seen as a real benefit.
“He’s been through everything,” Ojulari said. “He knows how it goes. New techniques, things to do.”
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While Ojulari — and several other Georgia outside linebackers — have gotten a lot of hype, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart wants to see that talent get turned into actual on-field production.
“We have to improve some production and create some ways for those guys to take advantage of their skill-set which is fast, big, where we’ve got to get rush,” Smart said. “The bottom line is, we don’t get the rush, it doesn’t matter what we do.”
The Bulldogs ranked 84th and 95th in the country last season in sacks and tackles for loss respectively.
Related: What Brenton Cox’s potential exit does and doesn’t mean for Georgia outside linebacker room
Stokes did add that Ojulari — now healthy and 10 to 15 pounds heavier than he was a year ago — is a guy who Georgia will be able to count on in both the run and pass.
“He’s a big closer,” Stokes said. “We need somebody to close and he’s going to hold it down and do whatever he’s going to do.”
But Ojulari is confident that the group — not just himself — can deliver what Smart is asking for.
“I think we’re a group that can wreak havoc and do damage to different teams,” Ojulari said.
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