Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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34 JUNE/JULY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY ANDREW MENTOCK F or the fifth time in head coach Brian Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame, at least six former Fight- ing Irish players were selected in the NFL Draft. Even more significant is that Notre Dame finished the three-day affair with a total of 511 picks in the history of the NFL Draft, which ties the Fight- ing Irish with USC for No. 1 all time. Combined, the estimated value of the draftees' rookie contracts is more than $28 million. Overall, there weren't many sur- prises — every Notre Dame selection seemed reasonable — but several in- triguing storylines did emerge on the second and third day of the event. JULIAN OKWARA JOINS HIS BROTHER IN DETROIT Along with several members of his family and close friends, defensive end Julian Okwara gathered at the Char- lotte apartment of his oldest brother Jimel to watch the 2020 NFL Draft. That week, league personnel sent over streaming equipment, so that the younger Okwara could air live footage of the watch party on ESPN, and a box of 32 hats — one for every NFL team. On April 23, the first round of the draft came and went, and neither Julian nor any of his Notre Dame teammates were taken. At the start of day two, Julian's mother, Melda, did what she could to keep her son from anxiously staring at his phone all evening, waiting for it to ring with an NFL general man- ager or coach on the other line. He finally received the call at the start of the third round. As he began to cry, his mother hugged him— but only Julian actually knew who was on the other end of the phone. They'd soon find out that Julian was speaking with the Detroit Lions, the team his brother Romeo, also a former Notre Dame defensive end (2012-15), has played for since 2018. Julian finally made the announce- ment to his family and friends by hanging up the phone, looking at Romeo and shouting, "We're about to be roommates, bro!" By the end of the night, it still didn't seem real. After suffering a season-ending fractured left fibula against Duke Nov. 9, it was unclear how much Julian's draft status would be impacted. Prior to the season, he was considered a first-round pick, but after joining his brother on the Lions, it was evident to him and his family that everything happens for a reason. "It's awesome," Julian Okwara told Detroit media after being se- lected with the No. 67 overall pick early in the third round. "I've always dreamed about this [playing with his older brother Romeo], so it's defi- nitely a dream come true. "I'm pretty much speechless. I'm still kind of letting it marinate, [will] think about it tonight and probably will wake up tomorrow and really let it sit in." It was a high-upside pick for the Lions, especially because Julian went in the third round. While Romeo and Julian do, in fact, plan to live with each other at the start of the NFL season, their mother knows they won't be roommates for too long. With the estimated value of Julian's contract amounting to $4,889,189, according to, he should be able to afford his own place rather quickly. Ultimately, Julian is committed to being his own person, and Romeo has a history of getting out of little broth- er's way and not casting a shadow. "When Romeo is around, Julian is obviously very excited to see him. But Romeo has never been that guy that is giving advice," head coach Brian Kelly said, referring to when Romeo would drive from Detroit to visit his brother in South Bend. "[Romeo] kind of stays back and he's let Julian be who he is. "I've always appreciated that, the TOP TALENT PRODUCERS With six more selections in the 2020 NFL Draft, Notre Dame is now tied with USC for the most all-time picks The Detroit Lions publicity department marketed the "bookend" Okwara brothers in this image, with Romeo No. 95 and Julian No. 92. PHOTO COURTESY DETROIT LIONS

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