EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The dream that Andrew Thomas and Azeez Ojulari shared in Georgia will become a reality in New Jersey.
When the Giants selected Ojulari in the second round of the NFL Draft Friday night, it reunited him with Thomas, his close friend and former roommate and teammate at the University of Georgia. They first discussed the possibility of reuniting in the NFL after Thomas was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
"When he got drafted, we thought about it," Ojulari said on a Zoom call soon after becoming a Giant. "It could happen one day. So, we were like, 'It would be cool for us to be teammates coming from Georgia. That would be nice.' And look at us now, teammates."
"We talked about it," Thomas said from Ojulari's draft party in Smyrna, Ga. "But when it really comes true it's always a different feeling."
View photos of second-round pick Azeez Ojulari.
The Giants chose Ojulari with the draft's 50th choice, which they acquired along with a 2022 third-round selection from Miami for the 10th pick in the second round, No. 42.
"I'm excited for him," Thomas said. "We got a great player, he works hard. I'm excited. He gets to work with (former Georgia linebacker) Lorenzo (Carter, who is entering his fourth season). They play the same position, both came from Georgia, so I'm excited to see what he can do. Good player. He's definitely going to help our team."
Thomas should know, because he and Ojulari were frequent practice combatants at Georgia.
"I think he has all the intangibles, like he's fast, he's strong, has good weight," Thomas said. "But personally, the thing that I feel makes him different from other guys is his heart and how he plays the game. Azeez, he'll run through a brick wall for his teammates. That's how he plays the game. I've never seen a D-end take on a counter like him. Like we had (offensive lineman) Solomon Kindley. Sol loved pulling and Azeez everyday looked forward to it. You don't see that much from outside linebackers. A lot of times, they just want to rush the passer and do things like that, but Azeez doesn't care about the glory. He just works hard, so I think that's what separates him."
"I'm definitely relentless," Ojulari said. "Effort is never a question. I'm an all-around player. I can rush the passer, stop the run, drop in coverage or whatever I have to do to help the team, I can do it."
Ojulari said Thomas is "definitely" the best tackle he's ever faced. "(I got better) every single day competing," Ojulari said. "Good on good, every day."
The Giants have selected a player from Georgia in the first three rounds in four consecutive drafts. In 2018, Carter was their third-round choice. Two years ago, cornerback DeAndre Baker was the last of the Giants' three first-round selections. He is no longer with the team. Last year, Thomas was taken fourth overall and as a rookie he played in all 16 games with 15 starts. Another Georgia linebacker, Tae Crowder, was taken by the Giants with the 255th and final selection in last year's draft.
In addition, Giants linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer recruited and signed Ojulari to play at Georgia.
"He recruited me when I was coming into Georgia, so our relationship is already there, for sure," Ojulari said. "I've learned things from him, from watching film and tape and coming into Georgia. We really have a good bond going in, for sure.
"It's just great just having my brothers up there already. They're people that I have conversations with. It would be great for me to come in there and learn from them. They've been there, so they can teach me and tell me things. So, I just can't wait to get up there with those guys and be ready to work."
Thomas was a sophomore and Ojulari a freshman when they first met in 2018.
"That's when we became roommates," Thomas said. "I already had a few roommates and we switched around. He was able to move with me, so he moved in and that's when we started our relationship. … My other two roommates in college, we all went to the same high school, so we already knew each other. Azeez, it took a minute for him to open up to us and to get to know him, but after a few months we started hanging out, going everywhere together, going to get food and we started to bond and stuff like that. We became brothers."
What kind of personality does that brother have?
"Azeez, he's not super outgoing, but if you get to know him, he's a real chill dude, he's funny," Thomas said. "But yeah, he's a real good dude, level-headed kid, comes from a really good family, but if you get to know him, he's really funny, too."
Ojulari played in 27 games in three seasons at Georgia. His totals included 71 tackles (41 solo), 19.5 tackles for loss, 14.0 sacks, five forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass defensed.
Did he think about those who called him the best pass rusher in the draft?
"Everyone has their own opinions, but definitely I believe that," Ojulari said. "I'm just confident in my game. I'm just ready to go to work with the New York Giants and show everybody what I can do."
In 2020, Ojulari started all 10 of Georgia's games. He had a career-high and team-leading 8.5 sacks, including 6.5 in the final six games – 3.0 of them in a Peach Bowl victory against Cincinnati. Ojulari also led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. He was selected second-team All-SEC.
The previous year, Ojulari played in 14 games with 13 starts and led the team with 5.5 sacks. In his first season with the program in 2018, he was limited to three games because he was rehabbing after tearing his right ACL as a senior in high school, but he had three tackles in the Bulldogs' loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
"My knee is good," he said. "Everything is good and solid. Everything is perfect."
Especially now that he is again teammates with Thomas.