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Notre Dame Football

Toledo DL Coach Larry Black Left A Lasting Impression at Notre Dame

September 10, 2021

New history will be made as Toledo and Notre Dame meet on the gridiron for the first time.

It will also be a jammed-packed weekend of emotions as the teams will play on 9/11 combined with the game being the home opener for the Fighting Irish and the first time since 2019 Notre Dame Stadium will be filled. 

In a weekend of headlines, there is one both fanbases might overlook as Toledo defensive line coach Larry Black will make his return to Notre Dame after spending the 2018 season as a graduate assistant under Mike Elston before taking his current job with the Rockets. 

A year isn’t long to make an impact, but Black did just that as he not only helped the defensive line develop, but he forged relationships that hold strong today. 

Black starred at Indiana before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals and that experienced paid off at Notre Dame. 

Detroit Lions outside linebacker Julian Okwara was always impressed with the time Black gave the defensive line, but also the willingness to pass knowledge on to the room. 

“Coach Black was a man that was loved so much because a lot of the guys saw somebody who was grinding just like them,” Okwara told ISD. “He would come every day ready to work and bring the juice, especially on the defensive line. He was always on top of his work and even made time to get to know the guys he was coaching.

“We saw the work he put in every day and even on the off days to make himself available to the players, whether it was chopping it up on the field during practice, outside of the building or as you were passing by. Coach Black always had a great attitude and loved to teach and pass the knowledge he has from being a player and coach to us. We took it and ran with it.”

Graduate assistants come and go in college football. Relationships are formed, but few GA’s make an immediate impression on players and that’s exactly what Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Khalid Kareem remembers.  

“What made Coach Black so loved was his willingness to help anybody who wanted to get better from the jump,” explained Kareem. “I don't think he was there a full week before we started getting extra work in during spring ball 2018.” 

Defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji was just coming into his own in 2018 as he arrived as a raw athlete that needed to be developed in the program. Elston did just that as he developed the Michigan native into a 2021 fifth-round draft pick, but Ogundeji also learned key lessons from Black.

"Coach Black taught me a lot,” Ogundeji said. “I think the biggest thing he taught was to be always ‘crafting.’ It pretty much means always work on fine-tuning your technique because that's what's going to show on the field.

"I try to take that to my life off the field too by fine-tuning on the little things I need to work at with my life. If you're not working on crafting the little things someone is and when you go against them, they will beat you."

Daelin Hayes has started his rookie year with the Baltimore Ravens, but the former Notre Dame captain makes sure he keeps in touch with Black. 

"Coach Black is just a great dude,” said Hayes. “He just cares so much about us and a lot about our development. Coach Black's energy is infectious and his care factor is high for us on and off the field. I've had just as many talks with Coach Black about life as I've had about anything on the football field. 

"I still talk to Coach Black at least once a week. That's just my guy."

Khalid Kareem
Khalid Kareem and Larry Black 

Kareem also echoed Okwara’s statements as he was grateful for Black’s commitment to helping Elston develop the defensive line, which meant less time with his own family. 

“I also think what made him great was that he was relatable,” Kareem stated. “He isn't too old where he's out of date with what's going on in society. He's been in the same shoes we're in now, not too long ago.

“Lastly, what made myself and others like Daelin (Hayes), Ade (Ogundeji) and Kurt (Hinish) love him so much was that he shared the love to compete and get better every day. He wasn't afraid to come in at 6:30 am or 8:30 pm and get his hands dirty. That showed true dedication that he wasn't in it for the money or the recognition, but wanted to see his players succeed on and off the field.”

When most think of improvement on the defensive line, they think about moves or strength. For Kareem, it was vision. It was seeing how to attack or eliminating how an offensive lineman read him before the snap.

“The biggest area of my game that he helped me with is perspective,” said Kareem. “How to see the game from different points of view. Understanding what and offensive linemen may see from the look I’m giving them. And for me, how to react to what they’re giving me.” 

Black also wasn’t afraid to challenge a guy like Okwara each day. The Charlotte native had speed off the edge, but Black made sure to put emphasis on his hands to add the next layer to Okwara’s game.

"Coach Black always knew what he was talking about,” Okwara explained. “I think what helped me the most at Notre Dame was having active hands. He would challenge us with hand combat and just even in your rushes making sure you're getting off the ball or making sure we didn't jump offsides  and just being violent with your rush plan." 

In 2018, Notre Dame completed a perfect 12-0 regular season. As with any run to the College Football Playoff, the Irish experienced many ups and downs.

Ogundeji gives Black credit for keeping things light while also making sure Elston’s group was ready to go when it was time to be serious. 

"Coach Black is one of us in a sense,” said Ogundeji. “We can joke with him in a work setting and still get things done. There are too many funny moments I had with him and Lid, Daelin, Julian and Jammer (Jamir Jones). He was a coach we could have fun with but was also serious when it was time to ball." 

Black might have been able to keep it light, but Hayes felt he pushed at the right times, which gained him more respect from the defensive line room. 

"He was relentless with our technique,” Hayes stated. “Whenever we wanted to get extra work, he was available to us."

"The guys loved him. Kurt loved him. Me and Lid kicked it with him so much. The twins loved him. Long story short, Coach Black's investment in us and the knowledge he was able to give us is why he's where he's at right now. and why he ascended so quickly." 

Fast forward to present day and you’ll find Kareem making the drive to Toledo on a regular basis in the offseason to get work in with Black and it’s allowed them to form a relationship that’s much more than football. 

“I think it goes beyond him being a coach that keeps me going back to train with him year in and year out,” explained Kareem. “I wouldn’t call him a father figure because he’s too young to be my father, but probably something along the lines of a big brother.

“Yeah, we get good work in on the field but it’s what he can share and give off the field that’s truly impactful. He schools me on how to handle myself in certain situations from both perspectives; 1. As a player/young adult, and 2. From a coach/man who’s been through what I’m going through. I think the biggest thing with him is that he’s honest with me. He lets me know the areas I need improvement or need more work in because no one is going to get better on or off the field if everything is sugar-coated.

“A relationship like that isn’t just built overnight. It’s the countless hours that we put in from the time he got to Notre Dame until now.”

Rick Kimball/ISD
Larry Black and Jerry Tillery


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