Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Blair Academy’s beautiful campus in New Jersey to see 4-star Michigan commit David Ojabo play against Wyoming Seminary Prep. Ojabo has garnered a lot of intrigue by possessing elite athleticism, but is still new to the game of football.
After being born in Nigeria and growing up in Scotland, he only picked up the sport last season at Blair. With that given, this was only Ojabo’s 10th game in his career. In two games this season, Ojabo has already registered four sacks and six tackles for loss. In this game, he tallied one of those sacks, along with three more tackles for loss and five tackles total.
While his rawness showed in this game, he also demonstrated the type of unteachable traits that caused his ranking to get bumped up to a 4-star this summer. He has the potential to rise even more, if he’s anything like his former teammate Jayson Oweh, who had a similar story to Ojabo and ended up in the top 100.
I also got a chance to talk to Ojabo after the game and hear his perspective of how the game went and what his skill set is. I’ll sprinkle his quotes in the scouting report, since a lot of what we talked about was specific to this game.
Here’s every snap Ojabo played on defense this game. He wears number 71 and was lining up at left defensive tackle throughout the whole game. Some angles make him hard to see in the interior of the line, but when in doubt he’s the huge 6-foot-4 kid.
While Ojabo lined up at defensive tackle, he’s expected to play defensive end at Michigan. Ojabo says “versatility is one of my best assets because I’m so new to the game, so the coaches can mold me into whatever they want.”
Ojabo possesses rare speed and a quick first step. This allowed him to penetrate into his gap and get around offensive linemen before they could get a hand on him. Watch the plays at 3:38 and 6:40 to see for yourself. Ojabo was at his best when he was shooting into the A gap between the center and guard.
Filling his gap is what Ojabo told me his goal was to do in this game. “Today I did more of protecting my gap and forcing the ball into my teammates.”
Sometimes he would pursue too much and let the play go right behind him. The opposing offense could effectively eliminate him when he did this, like the plays at 1:55 and 2:44. He has to tone down the eagerness and find the ball when he breaks through the line, instead of continuing upfield.
When he didn’t try to penetrate into a gap and attack the lineman head on, it didn’t go as well. Watch the plays at 3:18 and 4:51, where Ojabo would go right at the guard. He stands up too quickly and gives away all his leverage. This makes it easier for the lineman to stay in control and take him where he wants to go. Staying low and block-shedding are two areas that come with time and will be gained with more experience and coaching.
Ojabo recognizes he’s faster than any guy lining up against him. He got the Rashan Gary treatment and was held a lot without it getting called. Ojabo says it happens to him a lot, because, “that’s only way they can stop speed…because I’m already past them and they are left with no option but to pull me back.”
Again like Gary, he only got a call once he made a show of how bunched up his jersey was after a particularly egregious incident.
Witness Ojabo’s speed on the last play of the film, where a linebacker makes an interception and returns it for a touchdown. Ojabo keeps even with him the whole way, messing around while his teammate is sprinting. It’s clear Ojabo could easily keep up with him and is probably faster.
He used a couple different moves to try and get past linemen, when they weren’t grabbing him. The swim move at 1:36 was effective, getting him by in a flash. The push-pull move at 6:12 led to an easy tackle in the backfield. Ojabo also tried to use a rip move a couple times, but that didn’t work as well.
His first step, quickness and developing pass rush moves are what leads me to predict Ojabo will be utilized as a pass rush specialist early on in his career. He is an obvious candidate for a redshirt given his inexperience, but in his first few seasons I think he’ll be seen most often on clear passing downs.
This career path is similar to Josh Uche, the player I think Ojabo most resembles on Michigan’s roster. On Ojabo’s 247Sports page, he is listed as 6-foot-4.5 and 233 pounds. On Michigan’s roster, Uche is 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds. The similar size and skill set make this an easy comparison.
Considering Ojabo is younger and already bigger than Uche, I think as he gets older he’s more likely to move down as a lineman rather than become a SAM linebacker. He’d be best used on the weak-side, given his speed, but he must develop better run-defending before making that move.
When I asked Ojabo whether he thought he was better against the run or the pass, he was confident he could do both. “All around. I can clog up the gap or chase down the QB/RB.”
As for how he’s handling the football learning curve, Ojabo knew what he was up against, but wasn’t giving himself a break.
“It’s all a process. I can’t beat myself up for messing up because, like you said, it’s only my second season,” he said. “But at the same time, I can’t use that as an excuse. Most important thing is to keep an open mind and keep learning.”
Fortunately for Ojabo, he will be soon under the tutelage of Greg Mattison and Don Brown, two excellent defensive minds with a track record of squeezing every bit of talent out of players they can. It may be a few years, but it’s only a matter of time before Ojabo is terrorizing Big Ten quarterbacks.