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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Nana Osafo-Mensah says Notre Dame community made the school an ‘easy choice’

Irish DL Nana Osafo-Mensah celebrates a sack in Notre Dame’s 16-14 loss to the Stanford Cardinals in 2022.

Nana Osafo-Mensah’s ascent over the last few years has been steady and subtle.

The graduate student defensive end is oftentimes easy to miss on the stat sheet — Osafo-Mensah currently ranks 12th on the team in tackles and is tied for fifth in tackles for loss — but his impact cannot be overstated. A key member of Notre Dame’s front seven rotation, he plays a major role in, among other situations, helping the Irish set the edge against the rush.

Coming out of high school, it wasn’t hard for the then-four star recruit to choose Notre Dame.

“I really just wanted to go to a school that had the best of both worlds in terms of football and education,” said Osafo-Mensah. “And then on top of that, being able to practice my faith, practice Catholicism was a big thing for me. I visited a lot of schools back in high school, but when I came to Notre Dame, all the people here I met were just different, from the student body to the players on the team. They just were like really a big family, and that was just a cool thing to me because I really could see myself fitting in with them. So when the time came to make a decision on where I wanted to go, Notre Dame was the easy choice for me.”

Once he arrived, though, Osafo-Mensah didn’t immediately see the field. He played in just two games during his first two years with the program, recording a single assisted tackle. But patience would pay off for the Fort Worth, Texas, native, as he found his place as a key depth piece along the defensive line during his junior season. He played in 12 games, notching 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss along the way. The reps continued into his senior year, when he played in 13 games and forced his first career fumble.

The forced fumble came in what was perhaps Osafo-Mensah’s best individual performance of his career, a game against Stanford in which the rest of the Irish roster seemed to struggle. Osafo-Mensah added three tackles (including a tackle for loss) to go with his forced fumble on the night. His strong outing in the loss drew specific praise from head coach Marcus Freeman after the game.

“Nana has really shown up. I think that’s the most amount of plays he’s ever played,” Freeman said. “It’s the most production he’s had, too. He’s done a really good job developing in practice. That’s the one thing I said to [defensive line] Coach [Al] Washington Sunday when we were watching film: ‘How many plays did Nana play? He needs to play more.‘”

This past offseason, though, Osafo-Mensah faced a choice. He had completed his four years of undergraduate studies at Notre Dame and had plenty of options as for what to do next. He had additional eligibility, accumulated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a freshman year redshirt. Few would have faulted him for moving on, either to another program or to the professional world, after four years with the Irish. He all but certainly could have sought out an even bigger role at a different school.

But Osafo-Mensah opted to stay in South Bend and earn an additional degree. He described the process of earning his Master’s while still playing football as difficult, but filled with support.

“Going through that whole process but also still playing football and being in season was a big difficulty,” Osafo-Mensah said. “But the thing about Notre Dame is they’re always gonna have the resources to help you out, and always have the resources to make sure you succeed as long as you want them … Our coaches are always supportive of it. Even if there were times when you had to miss practice or miss meetings for an exam, or for a class, for some type of outside project — they’re always willing to help out with that.”

Osafo-Mensah’s graduate season has been perhaps his best yet. He’s one of 16 defenders to have played in every one of Notre Dame’s games this year. More than just a rotational substitute, Osafo-Mensah has been counted on to contribute in all sorts of critical situations. And though he still has two regular season games left to play, he’s already registered career highs in tackles and tackles-for-loss in a season, with 18 and 3.5, respectively.

In 2022, Osafo-Mensah’s best game aligned with Notre Dame’s worst team outing of the season. This fall, however, the opposite was true. As the Irish defense put forth one of its best team performances of the year against USC, Osafo-Mensah shined as well. He notched a personal-best 4 tackles as well as his second sack of the season.

Looking back on his time with the Irish, Osafo-Mensah says it was the community within the team that made his experience a strong one.

“The people that I’ve met in my five years here are definitely people that I’m gonna cherish for the rest of my life,” Osafo-Mensah said. “Even those that have graduated, from four years ago to last year … Not only are they just brothers and sisters to me now, but they’re really people that I’ve been through a lot of stuff with. [I’ve] been through the pandemic with them, been through injuries with them, been through just learning and growing as a person. Especially like between the ages of 18 to 23, a lot of stuff goes on in those days. Just being able to have those types of people, especially being far from home, too, they’ve just been super important and super impactful people in my life.”