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North Texas defense values Ejiya’s versatility at linebacker

North Texas defense values Ejiya’s versatility at linebacker

North Texas junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya lines up for a snap against Southern Mississippi University. Courtesy | Mean Green Athletics

North Texas defense values Ejiya’s versatility at linebacker
October 19
19:29 2017

After starting the season at the “jack” linebacker position, junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya moved over to weakside linebacker for the last two contests against the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

As a jack, Ejiya recorded eight solo tackles in four games. In two starts at weakside linebacker, he has tallied seven solo tackles and had his first 10-total tackle game of the season. Ejiya currently ranks second on the team with 45 total tackles, trailing only behind sophomore Khairi Muhammad (52).

As a result of his versatility, he has become an even more integral part of the North Texas defense.

“He’s been playing very well,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “After some depth issues [in the offseason] we moved him to jack. He has a really good understanding of what we’re trying to get accomplished defensively, he can play multiple positions and he’s very versatile.”

The numbers this season have built on a solid showing last year when Ejiya proved his worth directly out of the junior college ranks and made 43 tackles (26 solos).

But while he quickly populated the stat sheet, the transition wasn’t as easy as Ejiya makes it seem now. When he first got to Denton from the North Dakota State College of Sciences, his mindset and play on the field had to undergo a complete reconstruction.

“When I first got here, I was a typical JuCo guy,” Ejiya said. “I still thought I could do whatever I wanted. But coach Littrell did a good job of teaching me core values and it helped me become a better man, a better teammate and a better leader.”

Halfway through his junior season, Ejiya has been able to seamlessly move between positions and around the formations, which allows him to disrupt offenses in multiple ways. The jack position usually adjusts depending on the formation of the offense, and the junior linebacker fully embraced the position.

Ejiya attributes his success and ability to move around the starting lineup to the relationships he has built over the past year.

“It was just my teammates believing in me,” Ejiya said. “The trust that they give me and the chemistry we all built together, we’re all communicating as one and I feel welcomed on the defense coming in as a starter this year.”

With everyone being on the same page in the linebacking corps, Ejiya was then able to focus on giving total effort on every play and playing naturally. It has shown in his numbers and is evident in all aspects to the rest of the Mean Green defense.

His teammates are the first to take notice of his motor on the field. Redshirt junior middle linebacker Brandon Garner lines up next to Ejiya and sees him fly around every time the defense lines up.

“He gives 100 percent effort every single play,” Garner said. “That’s a big thing. He’s athletic, can run and he’s big, so he contributes a lot to the defense.”

Ejiya is explosive on the edge and leads the team with 4.5 sacks. He also has a team-high 6.5 tackles for loss and has tallied three in the last two games alone.

The Mean Green now sit at 4-2 (3-0 Conference USA), and a large reason for their success is an ability to slow the run game.

On Saturday, Ejiya and the defense will face their biggest challenge of the conference season as far as the run defense is concerned. Florida Atlantic University has run the ball 109 more times than they have passed it through six games, including 69 rushes against Old Dominion University.

FAU is averaging more than 500 yards of offense and has put up an average of 350 yards on the ground in its last four games.

“We’ve competed against some really good teams,” Littrell said. “FAU is not going to be any different.”

While the task at hand is the No. 1 priority for Ejiya, the season as a whole is one that Ejiya said he is looking forward to using to grow as a player and a person.

After coming from a junior college where he fought for himself and his numbers, he’s an integral part of a trending team where he is asked to be a central cog. It’s a role Ejiya embraces and one he signed up for when he decided to come to North Texas.

“I’m just looking forward to another bowl appearance and a conference championship,” Ejiya said. “[We] have to bring more championships here to North Texas and just make the program better. That’s what I came here for, to make a change in the program.”

Featured Image: North Texas junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya lines up for a snap against Southern Mississippi University. Courtesy | Mean Green Athletics

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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