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Bohls: Texas' Ovie Oghoufo is looking for new heights as Longhorns' new defensive end

  • Ovie Oghoufo spent three seasons in a backup role at Notre Dame before transferring to Texas.
  • Oghoufo was a three-star recruit in high school who played linebacker, safety and receiver.
  • He leads Texas in sacks with two in the first three games.

Ovie Oghoufo has seen some sights in his career.

Memorable ones.

Like Touchdown Jesus. And Bevo. And stadiums like the Rose Bowl and the Cotton Bowl.

And he’s excited about seeing even more.

No doubt about it, Texas' defensive end grad transfer from Notre Dame is all about creating new moments and fresh memories at a new place.

“I left Notre Dame after I had an opportunity to graduate,” Oghoufo said Monday, “and I was looking for more opportunities. I’m so blessed to have been at Notre Dame, and now I’m at Texas. Both are storied programs.”

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And the Farmington, Mich., native is going about making some more rich stories in a career that has taken him from an all-state linebacker in high school and three-star recruiting prospect to a backup role at Notre Dame and now a starter at Texas.

In some respects, Oghoufo has already been to the mountaintop or at least the vicinity, having played on two College Football Playoff teams with Notre Dame. He played sparingly with the Fighting Irish, appearing in 20 games without a start, but loved the experience.

Texas' Ovie Oghoufo celebrates a play against Louisiana in the season opener. The Notre Dame graduate transfer has made his presence felt in quick order as an edge rusher, and he's tied for third-most tackles on the team.

In his new locale, he’s excited about the climb, having transferred from arguably the nation’s highest-profile football program to Texas, an equally prominent program that he hopes is on the ascent after only one double-digit win season since 2009.

Toward that end, he’s making an immediate impact as new coach Steve Sarkisian searches for an explosive edge rusher to replace the departed Joseph Ossai. Up until this point, Texas has largely had to rely on linebackers DeMarvion Overshown and Luke Brockermeyer and blitzing corners like Chris Adimora to get adequate heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Like Overshown, Oghoufo once played safety before moving to linebacker and is now on the defensive line. He also caught 32 passes for 529 yards and seven touchdowns as a receiver his senior year in high school, when he also made 106 tackles with 11 sacks and 31 stops for a loss as middle linebacker.

“I just didn’t think I’d ever get moved to defensive end,” said the 6-3, 237-pound transfer who wears a most unlikely D-line number with jersey No. 18.

Texas' Ovie Oghoufo tries to tackle Rice quarterback Wiley Green in last Saturday's 58-0 win. He has two sacks through the first two games.

Oghoufo didn’t even arrive on campus until June but opened enough eyes to start as a standup end and provide instant production. He had visited programs like Michigan, Penn State, Stanford and, of course, Notre Dame out of high school but was locked in on Texas in part to follow Irish secondary coach Terry Joseph, who was plucked away by Sarkisian.

So why Texas?

“Connections, really,” Oghoufo said. “Getting back together with coach Joseph. Bo Davis (defensive line coach), I was familiar with him. I had a lot of choices, but Texas jumped out in all the choices.”

Sarkisian saw enough in August that he knew he could get results out of Oghoufo, and he has.

“I think the one guy who’s really jumped out to me has been Ovie,” Sarkisian said in August. “He’s a physical guy, explosive, he plays hard. He’s smart. He’s got great work ethic, so he’s probably the first guy that jumps out.”

Sarkisian’s faith in him has already been rewarded. Oghoufo may not be Ossai, but he’s quick off the ball and can get to the quarterback.

He’s leading Texas in sacks with two in the Longhorns’ first three games and is tied for third on the team in total tackles with safety B.J. Foster, at 13 apiece. Sarkisian also brought in two other transfers, Ray Thornton from LSU and Ben Davis from Alabama, but they’ve started more slowly and combined for just nine tackles between them.

“Me and Ovie play on the same side some,” Foster said, “and I love playing behind him. He’ll make his reads and see it right away. He gets it fast.”

Ovie Oghoufo didn't start at Notre Dame, but did get to play in two College Football Playoff semifinals. “Going to the playoffs twice, that’s hard to get there,” he said. “That’s kind of what I want to bring to Texas. I want to win and bring that to Texas.”

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Oghoufo could have stayed at Notre Dame, but he skipped another season there and entered the transfer portal before the Irish hired a new defensive coordinator. He was expected to fit into the Irish defensive rotation as an edge rusher, but had just 2.5 sacks in 20 games playing behind a senior in Daelin Hayes.

Asked to name his highlight from his three seasons at South Bend, Oghoufo didn’t cite his sack against Florida State or his 10 tackles last season. 

He mentioned the two playoff appearances despite the fact the Irish were trounced in both. Notre Dame got crushed 30-14 by Clemson in a CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl and fell hard 31-14 to eventual national champion Alabama in another semi last January after squeezing out a more deserving Texas A&M for the fourth and final spot in the CFP.

Arkansas offensive lineman Luke Jones and Texas defensive end Ovie Oghoufo hug after the Razorbacks' win in Fayetteville, Ark. two weeks ago. Jones, like Oghoufo, is a former Notre Dame player who transferred out.

Oghoufo had a tackle in each of those two playoff games.

“Going to the playoffs twice, that’s hard to get there,” he said. “That’s kind of what I want to bring to Texas. I want to win and bring that to Texas.”

Easy, big guy.

One step at a time, starting with Saturday against Texas Tech.

The Longhorns might ought to lower the bar somewhat. After getting dominated by an average Arkansas team two weeks ago, Texas fell out of the Top 25 rankings entirely and will have to survive the next two weeks against a very improved Red Raiders team and then TCU on the road before the tussle at the State Fair.

Oghoufo’s in a good place to make a name for himself, given the lack of a proven pass rusher.

His teammates refer to him by all kinds of names. 

Like O-V-O. And Double O. And King.

“My name, Ovie, means king (in Nigeria),” Oghoufo said. His parents are originally from Nigeria and moved to the United States in 2000, just months before Ovie was born.

He’s hoping to play like royalty in Royal-Memorial Stadium this Saturday, and he’s to be commended for helping build chemistry with his teammates in such quick order.

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“Some have said the transfer portal is more like free agency,” he said. “You’ve got to come in and build chemistry. We need that chemistry.”

Newcomers on defense like Thornton, Davis, Brockermeyer and others need time to assimilate with that unit, especially with a new coaching staff. and Oghoufo is well on his way to accomplishing that. He’s already broken up a pass, has a quarterback hurry to go with his pair of sacks and three tackles for losses.

“We’re trying to figure out ourselves,” he said. “We’re trying to see where we are as a team. We learned from the Arkansas loss that we have to play together as a team. All three phases of the team matter.”

Oghoufo may not clear on where Texas goes from here, but he certainly knows where he’s been.