Wait finally ends in 2nd round for Georgia OLB Azeez Ojulari

Georgia linebacker Azeez Ojulari (13) chases Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) during the first half of a football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION
Georgia linebacker Azeez Ojulari (13) chases Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) during the first half of a football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

ATHENS – It’s mind-boggling the degree to which Azeez Ojulari was overlooked in college football. He exited his sophomore season at Georgia considered second-team All-SEC and a fourth-team All-American by Phil Steele. This while compiling 14 sacks against mostly SEC competition.

Ojulari was overlooked by the NFL on Thursday. Widely projected as a mid-first-round pick, the Marietta native was not able to hear his name called. And that wait continued 90 minutes into the second day of the NFL draft. Finally, the player many pundits identified as the best pure pass-rusher in the draft, Ojulari finally heard his named called by the New York Giants. They took him with the 50th pick, the 18th of the second round.

But if he was disappointed, Ojulari wasn’t letting on.

“I’m just blessed to be a New York Giant,” Ojulari said in a video conference call with reporters arranged by the Giants. “You know, I was just waiting my turn, waiting my opportunity. Now that it’s here, I’m just happy to be playing for the Giants.”

Ojulari ought to feel right at home. There will be plenty of familiarity.

The Giants had shown an inordinate amount of interest in Ojulari and their second-year offensive tackle Andrew Thomas might have had something to do with that. Thomas, a fellow UGA alum and Ojulari’s roommate while he lived in Athens, sang Ojulari’s praises to the Giants’ brass after having some monumental battles with Ojulari for two years in Georgia’s practices.

“Whenever it got between the grass, man, they weren’t roommates anymore. These guys competed,” Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning told Blueview.com, the Giants in-house website. “There’s a mutual respect, but there was a competition every single day between those two.”

In fact, Thomas was with his old roommate at his draft party when he got the call from the Giants. And back in New York, it’s going to be a Bulldog reunion. In addition to Thomas, former Bulldogs Lorenzo Carter and Tae Crowder are already on the roster.

To top it off, Kevin Sherrer, who recruited Ojulari to UGA as the Bulldogs’ outside linebackers coach, has joined the Giants staff this year as linebackers coach.

“It’s just great, man, having all my brothers up there already,” Ojulari said. “Those are people that are familiar with me that I can have conversations with. It’ll be great for me to come in and learn from them. They can teach me and tell me things. I just can’t wait to get up there.”

Ojulari had a somewhat inconspicuous beginning to his college career. While he signed with Georgia as a consensus 4-star prospect and U.S. Army All-American, he arrived in Athens still recovering from a senior-season knee injury. With the Bulldogs already well-established at outside linebacker, Ojulari was redshirted.

But a new NCAA rule that preserved eligibility for those playing fewer that four games and a late-season injury to starter D’Andre Walker allowed the Bulldogs to press Ojulari into service. And Ojulari was impressive in only three games of work, recording four tackles, including three solo stops and a QB pressure against Texas in the Sugar Bowl.

As a redshirt freshman, Ojulari became a starter. He emerged at first as a pass-rush specialist, but he quickly grew into an every-down contributor. At the Bulldogs’ postseason gala, he was named the most improved player on defense and also won the team’s strength-and-conditioning award.

All that hard work manifested itself this past season as Ojulari took his game to another level this past season. In addition to leading the outside linebackers with 22 tackles, he piled up 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in just 10 games.

That was the most sacks in a single season by a Georgia players since Jarvis Jones recorded a record 14.5 in 14 games in 2012. Ojulari led the Bulldogs his last two seasons with 14 overall.

“Azeez is a lead-by-example guy,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who is also Ojulari’s position coach. “He does exactly what you ask him to do. And I think he’s become more refined each year. You talk about player improvement from where he’s come from when he first got here to what he’s become, his ceiling is really high.”

The Giants agree.

AZEEZ OJULARI

  • Selection: No. 50, New York Giants
  • Position: Outside linebacker
  • Ht., wt.: 6-2, 249
  • Eligibility: Third-year sophomore
  • Hometown: Marietta
  • High school: Marietta
  • Statistically speaking: Bulldogs’ sack leader in 2019 (5.5) and 2020 (8.5)
  • Notable: Ojulari’s late grandfather is a famous Nigerian prince named Twins Seven Seven, whose obituary ran in the New York Times.

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