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The DMV is a hotbed for NFL talent, and in recent years, the Washington Football Team has taken advantage.
From drafting Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge) and Chase Young (DeMatha) in the first round to adding Logan Thomas (Brookville) and Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) in free agency, Washington has turned to its own backyard to construct a roster that helped the franchise win its first NFC East title since 2015.
In anticipation for the 2021 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 29, Washingtonfootball.com is examining some of the best local prospects in this year's draft class by talking to their high school coaches. We start with Hampton, Virginia, native and consensus first-round talent Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The way former Bethel High School football coach William Beverley plays the card-game spades, the Joker trumps all.
"You can have an Ace, and this and that and everything," Beverley said, "but if I pull a Joker out and I slap it on my forehead, it's a wrap."
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was the "Joker" of the Bruins' defense his senior year of high school. The type of offense or personnel dictated where Owusu-Koramoah lined up, and he dominated at every spot, whether it be edge rusher, linebacker, corner or safety. "The Joker beats everything, it erases everything," Beverley said, again referencing the card game. On the field, the "JOKer" accomplished the same thing.
That versatility is what makes JOK one of the most electrifying defenders in the 2021 draft class. His 6-foot-1, 221-pound frame suggests he is an NFL safety, but he is the reigning Butkus Award winner -- given annually to the nation's best linebacker -- after racking up 62 total tackles (11 for a loss), four pass breakups, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a touchdown.
At this point, it's not a matter of if he'll contribute at the professional level; it'll be about carving out a role to maximize his unique potential.
"I see him evolving like [Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy] Polamalu," Beverley said of Owusu-Koramoah. "He was the Joker. You didn't know where the Joker was going to be. He might be lined up at 10 yards, but when they hike the ball he's diving over the center."
Beverley first saw Owusu-Koramoah play in the youth leagues when he was an opposing coach and Owusu-Koramoah was the star player. His unique name stood out to Beverley, as did his ability to play anywhere on the field, and both characteristics stuck with Beverley as he continued to follow Owusu-Koramoah during the early part of his high school career. As the principal at a neighboring high school and the father of a boy of a similar age, Beverley had a front-row seat to Owusu-Koramoah's rare combination of speed, size and athleticism.
When Beverley became Bethel's football coach in January of 2015, he learned about Owusu-Koramoah's work ethic. The team held voluntary workouts in the morning and mandatory sessions in the afternoon. Owusu-Koramoah, then a sophomore, showed up to nearly every one.
"I was impressed with him pretty much right off because of his commitment," Beverley said. "He had an older brother, Josh, who was a year ahead of him. [He] Actually played at William & Mary. And both of them were outstanding athletes, committed, but Jeremiah had a whole different level of commitment."
Owusu-Koramoah started playing the "Joker" as a junior, although he primarily lined up at free safety because of his length, range, instincts and intelligence. "You could give him information and he would figure it out," Beverley said. "And he would make you right if you were wrong." It wasn't until his senior campaign where he really became a jack-of-trades defender, leading to him becoming a first-team all-state athlete and three-star recruit.
"That first game we opened up against Indian River and they were ranked No. 2 in the country," Beverley said. "We ended up beating them, and we beat them because we lined Jeremiah up at the standup defensive end like he did at Notre Dame once and a while coming off the edge. And we rotated him from side to side so they didn't know how to block him.
"It was the first game of the year, so they hadn't filmed him up, so every time at the mesh point -- they ran a spread option -- he caused two or three fumbles that game because before the guy could figure out whether he was going to give or take, Jeremiah would take him and the doggone running back and make him fumble or something crazy."
Those types of game-changing sequences grabbed the attention of Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea, who just so happened to take the same job at Notre Dame before Owusu-Koramoah graduated in 2017. Lea liked Owusu-Koramoah so much that he and Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko specifically recruited Owusu-Koramoah to play the "Rover," which is a hybrid linebacker/defensive back, in their scheme. Owusu-Koramoah had already committed to Virginia but flipped once Notre Dame, his dream school, offered him a scholarship.
Owusu-Koramoah redshirted as a freshman and played just two games the next year because of a foot injury, but once he finally became a starter in 2019, he flourished by leading the team in tackles (80), tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (5.5). Those numbers were slightly lower this past fall, yet he still won ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was named a first-team All-American.
An impressive Pro Day all but solidified that Owusu-Koramoah would hear his name called on the first night of the draft, and Beverley could not be prouder of his former player. Beverley turned Owusu-Koramoah into a positionless player in high school, and it's a role he'll continue to fill as he aims to make a name for himself in the NFL.
"He eats, sleeps and breaths football, so it's not an accident that he's successful at it," Beverley said. "When he comes off the field, yeah you can tell he's an athlete just by looking at him, but he doesn't walk around like he's going to cut somebody's head off. He's just so relaxed because he's so confident in his ability. Just real smooth with it, man. I'm tickled. I'm tickled. And I'm not surprised at all."