A losing season and a coaching change were probably things defensive end B.J. Ojulari didn’t plan on during in his career when he signed with LSU three years ago out of Marietta, Georgia.
Instead of following his standout brother Azeez to the University of Georgia, the younger Ojulari charted his own path after the Tigers had gone undefeated and won the national championship in 2019.
He credited the recruiting pitch of then LSU head coach Ed Orgeron for selling him on the idea of branching away from home to achieve his goals.
“Georgia did a great job recruiting me at the time because Coach (Dan) Lanning was a great outside linebacker coach D-coordinator, as well as the coach was my brother,” Ojulari said during Sunday’s teleconference in advance of the SEC Championship Game. “My brother did a good job recruiting me as well to Georgia. But for my decision, I just wanted to follow my own destiny, build a name for myself somewhere else.
“My brother, he tried hard to get me to Georgia,” Ojulari said. “I was very close as well. But my heart said different. Coach (Ed) O (Orgeron) and his staff did an amazing job, just showing me how special I was to them and how bad they wanted me to come play for LSU and at the end I think I made the right decision for myself.”
Ojulari has played a significant role, both emotionally and physically, helping No. 11 LSU (9-3) reach the SEC Championship Game against No. 1 Georgia (12-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Fast-forward two years and Orgeron was fired, leaving Ojulari with the option of transferring in the wake of a 6-7 season that ended with a loss in the Texas Bowl.
Rather than leave and start over somewhere else, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Ojulari became one of the leaders in first-year coach Brian Kelly’s regime. Not only was he awarded the team’s acclaimed No. 18 jersey, a sign of his leadership, the junior has ranked fifth on the team in tackles.
In 10 games Ojulari’s recorded 54 tackles, including a season-high 11 against Alabama, with 7 ½ tackles for loss, 5 ½ sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
“For me, it was never about who’s coaching or anything like that,” Ojulari said. “The big thing was staying at LSU, building something at LSU, just knowing the great history that LSU has and ultimately, I fell in love with the school. But there’s been great coaches before for me. There’s going to be great coaches after me.
“Coach Kelly has a certain process and when teams apply that process, it is proven to be successful and as a player all you can do is follow it,” Ojulari said. “Just from his past history of winning, all you can do is trust process and during this season it’s proven to be very successful.”
Here’s what else Ojulari had to say:
Any conversation with your brother this week leading up to game?
“We’ve been chopping it up ever since (matchup was determined). We found out that we were going to be the SEC West champions. He’s been giving a little banter here and there, since he went to UGA, but he’s all positive. He wants to see me succeed. But I know he’s going to be rooting for Georgia.”
Thoughts about what happened at Texas A&M?
“Very disappointing loss. Hats off to Texas A&M on playing a great game, calling a great game and finishing off their season the right way. We all know what the task at hand is. And we’re still going to have to go out to Atlanta and play our best game. We know our potential. We know we can play and the level that we can play at. So, this week is just focusing on us having a great week of preparation and getting ready to play UGA.”
On your role as a captain on this team?
“I think I don’t have to say too much. I know that I think the guys have a good understanding of the position that we’re in and what we can still accomplish in the SEC Championship. So as a leader, I still voice just keeping the guys up. Keeping our mental right, keeping us focused so we can have a great week of preparation and maybe we can alter our path.”
When did the team realize it could compete for SEC West title?
“I just think as a team, you just knew the type of talent and the potential that we have. So, for us it was just finding what Coach Kelly planned for us in his process. And I think when we bought into it, we knew the sky was the limit for us. And we do come in each week and apply and that process, taking it week by week and seeing where it goes and ultimately, it ended up being the SEC West champions.”
On play of freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr.?
“Harold been always a special player and just seeing him with those great flashes and practice of the speed, and capability off the edge. So just being able to see him an SEC game dominating is just really no surprise. Just the stuff that he’s able to do and how he can help our defense and how instrumental he’s been to the defensive play.”
When did the team accept Kelly’s process?
“Being one of the leaders, you know, my buying in was pretty immediate. With the new coaches coming in during the (Texas) bowl game, they started to implement the little pieces of the strength training process. Just having the buy-in and show the guys that this is this is what we have to do. This is a new process at LSU and just by me buying in, I think eventually everyone gets to see you know how positive and how effective this process can be. So, I don’t think it took long for everyone to get bought in and be on the same track.”
On Coach Kelly’s process for the players?
“SWAT teams hold people more accountable. He has teammates checking up on other teammates, just everyone having to do their job and pull on the same side of the rope all season. But everything that we do is not just physically cut. Coach Kelly does a great job of focusing on the mental aspect of the game, breaking things down for us to keep us focused and positive throughout the whole season.”