The only better roommate for road games would be Mike Denbrock. And considering assistant coaches don’t bunk with players, James Onwualu got it right by sharing off-campus hotel rooms with TJ Jones.
When it comes to Notre Dame’s offense, no receiver knows it better than the senior. So for the freshman from the same Cretin-Derham Hall program that produced Michael Floyd, it’s the current top Irish receiver helping Onwualu most right now.
“Being around him throughout spring and now into the fall is something that’s been amazing and helping me to learn a lot of parts of the game that I didn’t quite understand coming into it,” Onwualu said. “He can see the game before the snap even starts.”
Onwualu’s college career hasn’t started with the same bang as Floyd or Jones, both of whom caught touchdowns in their first games. Onwualu is still working toward his first catch, but he’s already found a role on special teams and as a blocking receiver. While that’s not exactly what the early enrollee envisioned out of the gate, he’s made a point of savoring those reps.
“I’m definitely not trying to take those for granted,” Onwualu said. “But as an athlete you try to continue to get better each day and push those limits even higher.
“As long as I keep getting better each day, I think my reps will come and I think I’ll end up being what the coaches want me to be.”
Climbing the depth chart requires Onwualu grasp not just one receiver position in the Irish offense, but all three. After showing up in South Bend last January, Onwualu has bounced around the X, Z and W positions, not far off from what Jones did during his early enrollment.
“In high school I knew the basic coverages, I knew different basic blocking schemes.
Other than that, I ran as fast as I could and as hard as I could,” he said. “Now I’m really trying to learn the different parts, the different aspects of the defense, the different parts of the offense as well.
“I definitely think about it as I’m running more than TJ would, more than DaVaris (Daniels) would. I try to think about it before the play so that I can run as fast as I can. But it’s pretty difficult.”
That’s the kind of challenge that drew Onwualu to Notre Dame in the first place.
The former four-star recruit knew what he was getting into by signing with the Irish, not just from Floyd, but also considering how the Irish have recruited Cretin-Derham over the last decade. Onwualu said he last spoke with Floyd around training camp to get a feel for the upcoming challenge.
What’s demanded on and off the field hasn’t disappointed, even when it’s stressed the freshman.
“Coming here you know it’s not gonna be easy. And if it were easy it would be worth nothing,” Onwualu said. “Yes, it can become overwhelming, but at the same time I kind of knew what I was getting into with coming to this University.”
Onwualu hopes there’s more challenges and more opportunities to come, including during the next six weeks.
Sticking with TJ Jones on the road figures to help Onwualu on all fronts.