When sophomore defensive end Adewale Ojomo injured his jaw in an incident three months deemed “locker room horseplay,” the defensive line took a major hit. Veteran Eric Moncur has been hobbled by injuries as well. Facing a daunting challenge without two of their big stars, the Canes have instead benefited from the maturity of an unlikely candidate: freshman defensive end Olivier Vernon.
“I was so disappointed when that happened,” Vernon said of Ojomo’s injury. “I knew I had to go out and play for him. I didn’t really get nervous, I just got a little excited.”
Through the first nine games, Vernon has 16 total tackles and a half a sack. His “coming out party” came week two against Georgia Tech, where he racked up four tackles, three of them for loss.
With junior Allen Bailey drawing double teams, Vernon has seized the opportunity to pressure and hurry opposing quarterbacks.
“He has definitely had a huge impact for us,” Defensive Line Coach Clint Hurtt said of his young protégé. “He is a big kid, very fast and very quick. He has a great motor, and you can’t teach that.”
Although his play on the field is wrought with maturity, Vernon has a playful side as well. The Miami native can frequently be found playing video games in his room, and his crazy hairstyle and head shavings exude a childlike passion for the game.
Vernon, ranked the ninth-best high school defensive end in the country by Scout.com in 2008, committed to the Hurricanes during his junior year at American High School in Miami. After graduating December of his senior year, Vernon, along with several other Hurricanes, enrolled early to take part in spring classes and football practices.
While many have questioned the legitimacy of the early enrollment process, Head Coach Randy Shannon said it has helped players like Vernon mature.
“It helps them adjust to the academic side of college, and it helps them grow. The guys that have come in early have helped shape our football team,” Shannon said. “Olivier, Jacory and Sean are just a few examples of that.”
“It was really tough graduating early,” said the 6-foot-3, 250 pound Vernon. “I had to take classes over the summer. Every morning, afternoon and night.”
According to Vernon, enrolling early has actually been beneficial.
“Things wouldn’t be coming so easy if I hadn’t enrolled early, it probably would have taken longer,” Vernon said. “I didn’t want to redshirt or anything like that, I wanted to come in and play right away.”
“Physically he is extremely gifted. The scary thing is, he still has to get some technique down,” Hurtt said.
The rest of the ACC has officially been warned. Olivier Vernon is here, and he means business.
Camron Ghorbi may be contacted at email@example.com.