Azeez Ojulari, Monty Rice named to Butkus Award watch list

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Azeez Ojulari, Monty Rice named to Butkus Award watch list

Monty Rice (32) and Azeez Ojulari (13) - Georgia vs. Auburn 2019 - Fourth Quarter - November 16, 2019
Monty Rice (32) and Azeez Ojulari (13) – Georgia vs. Auburn 2019 – Fourth Quarter – November 16, 2019

The watch list is out for the Butkus Award, which is an annual honor given the nation’s best linebacker, and two Georgia players were named. Senior inside linebacker Monty Rice and redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari both made the list.

Both players were statistical leaders in Georgia’s defense last year. That unit finished ranked No. 1 in scoring defense and rushing defense in 2019, respectively. The unit also finished third in total defense and eighth in pass efficiency defense.

Rice led the team in tackles last season with 89 total stops with 50 of them being solo. He also had three tackles for loss, three pass breakups and eight quarterback hurries. He started all 14 games after battling a pair of injuries in 2018. Rice had the opportunity to turn pro at the end of last year but decided to come back for his senior campaign.

Last season as a redshirt freshman, Ojulari led the team with 5.5 sacks. He also recorded 36 total tackles, six tackles for loss, a forced fumble and led the team in quarterback hurries with 18. He suffered a torn ACL in 2017 and had to have another surgery done in the summer of 2018 to help heal his knee. As a freshman in 2018, he appeared in three games but took a redshirt that year.

Apparently he took advantage of his opportunity during bowl practices when UGA was preparing for Texas that year, and had a very strong offseason heading into the spring of 2019. Last season, Kirby Smart had nothing but high praise about Ojulari last season during press conferences.

“He’s on the field a lot because we feel like he’s our best either-or player,” Smart said in October. “He can stand up. He can rush. He communicates well. He plays really physical. He strains, rushes the passer. So when you start talking about the attributes of an outside backer, first down is very different than third down. And you want somebody that can do it all.”

Georgia vs. Texas A&M 2019 - Second Quarter - November 23, 2019
Azeez Ojulari (13) – Georgia vs. Texas A&M 2019 – Second Quarter – November 23, 2019

The last Georgia player to take home the honor was in 2017 when current Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith won the award. During that season, he racked up 137 total tackles (85 solo) in 15 games. He also had 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, leading the team in all three of the aforementioned categories. In the 2017 SEC Championship game, Smith had two pass breakups, one forced fumble and eight quarterback hurries. He was named the MVP of the game in that 28-7 win over Auburn. Smith was also the Defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl in Georgia’s overtime win over Oklahoma.

Here is the list of the entire watch list:

Blaze Alldredge, Rice

Troy Andersen, Montana State

Rayshard Ashby, Virginia Tech

Derrick Barnes, Purdue

Terrel Bernard, Baylor

Nick Bolton, Missouri

Tuf Borland, Ohio State

K.J. Britt, Auburn

Baron Browning, Ohio State

Damone Clark, LSU

Riley Cole, South Alabama

Jabril Cox, LSU

Kuony Deng, California

Paddy Fisher, Northwestern

Jake Hansen, Illinois

Treshaun Hayward, Western Michigan

Lakia Henry, Mississippi

Anthony Hines, Texas A&M

Riko Jeffers, Texas Tech

Buddy Johnson, Texas A&M

Nate Landman, Colorado

Shane Lee, Alabama

Devin Lloyd, Utah

Carlton Martial, Troy

Cameron McGrone, Michigan

Ventrell Miller, Florida

Dimitri Moore, Vanderbilt

Dylan Moses, Alabama

Amen Ogbongbemiga, Oklahoma State

Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

Joseph Ossai, Texas

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

Micah Parsons, Penn State

Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State

Monty Rice, Georgia

Max Richardson, Boston College

Merlin Robertson, Arizona State

Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State

Mike Rose, Iowa State

Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin

James Skalski, Clemson

Isaac Slade-Matautia, Oregon

Charles Snowden, Virginia

Chazz Surratt, North Carolina

Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State

Henry To’o To’o, Tennessee

Joe Tryon, Washington

Garret Wallow, TCU

Pete Werner, Ohio State

DaShaun White, Oklahoma

Jahad Woods, Washington State

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.