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NFL teams getting to know Michigan linebacker Ojabo: 'He's a monster, man'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — David Ojabo, whose breakout season last year at Michigan launched him into first-round NFL Draft conversation, said NFL teams are curious who he is as a player.

Ojabo is among eight former Michigan players at the NFL Combine this week, a projected first rounder with a slim resume.

Michigan linebacker David Ojabo celebrates after a sack during the fourth quarter.

“They’re all trying to get to know me,” Ojabo said during his podium session Friday morning. “I was on the scene last year, so they’re trying to figure out who David Ojabo is.”

The abridged version of who Ojabo is goes like this.

“I’m a Scottish guy, born in Nigeria, just trying to learn this new sport and be the best at it,” he said, smiling.

His Michigan teammates at the Combine were a bit more descriptive.

“Ojabo is a monster, man,” edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson said Friday. “He’s got so much potential, so I cannot wait to see him at this level. He’s got a lot in front of him and a lot of good years in football.”

Right tackle Andrew Stueber who honed his skills facing Ojabo and Hutchinson said Ojabo has only scratched the surface.

“A freak athlete,” Stueber said this week. “He has all the tools to become an elite pass rusher. He’s still new to the sport. Once he gets more reps he will be elite.

More: How David Ojabo went from an 'unknown' to part of Wolverines' fearsome pass-rush tandem

Ojabo played basketball and soccer when he arrived in the U.S. and attended Blair Academy in New Jersey. He met Odafe Oweh there, then saw Oweh, now with the Baltimore Ravens, earn a college football scholarship. The 6-foot-5 Ojabo decided to take up a new sport.

“I attribute playing football because of (Oweh),” Ojabo said Friday. “I see what he did, blew up on the scene after one year, followed his footsteps, and it worked out well.”

The toughest transition for Ojabo was adjusting to the contact.

“Coming from basketball, you bump someone too hard, it’s a foul, in soccer you bump someone too hard it’s a foul,” he said. “In football, if you’re not bumping someone you’re not playing.”

During his Michigan career, Ojabo played in 20 games, and had his breakthrough season last year with 11 sacks and a single-season program record five forced fumbles. He was voted All-Big Ten first team.

Michigan defensive lineman David Ojabo speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Friday, March 4, 2022.

It was after the Wisconsin game last season when Ojabo had 2.5 sacks that he realized a professional future was clearly in his sights.

“I was like, ‘OK, I think I’m pretty good at this sport,’” Ojabo said. “Everything just kind of clicked together. I had a dominant performance and that’s when I really burst on the scene. I had my confidence burst through the roof and I started believing in myself.”

Ojabo knows he’s really just getting started in football and is far from being a finished product. He has played one full year of college football and has plenty still to learn.

More: Michigan experience gives Andrew Stueber 'an easy transition' to NFL combine

To accelerate that learning last year, Ojabo essentially attached himself to Hutchinson.

“Coming into this season, he was a projected top-five pick, so I knew already, that’s a high-level guy,” Ojabo said. “It was the smart thing to do to get in his hip pocket. In my head, I thought, man, if I do what he did, I’ll be top five. I latched on and did everything did, workouts, film, even asked him about his eating, sleeping habits, all that.”

Hutchinson said Ojabo improved each week, game to game. And there’s so much more progress to make. Ojabo at times would ask basic football questions in meetings. Hutchinson said he would laugh, understanding that Ojabo was still so very young in the game.

“But that just goes to show me how much potential that he has that he’s producing at that level what he produced and he’s still learning so much about the game,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said Ojabo improved each week, game to game.

Stueber said the Michigan players knew last year how special Ojabo could be. They also know how bright his future is.

“It was really getting time on task, really just getting the fundamentals, getting the instinct down, kinda getting the muscle memory,” Stueber said. “The work he’s putting in is paying off. The ability for him to use moves, utilize his speed to benefit him has really been impressive.

“The bounds he’s made have been really impressive and I can’t wait to see the next two or three years he has at the professional level where no other factors matter except getting better at football. The progress he’s going to make is going to be unquestionably great.”

Becoming great has been Ojabo’s priority since coming to the U.S. and playing at Michigan. He feels he's on the cusp.

“I know it’s destiny,” Ojabo said. “I came over here with one goal, and that’s just to make it. I knew there was something out there for me. I knew I was going to make it somehow.”

And NFL teams will finally know who he is.

Twitter: @chengelis