Following a 2015 redshirt season at Highland Community College in Kansas, inside linebacker Kendrick Catis was trying to make an impression on new defensive coordinator Walter Vaughn when a seminal moment happened in his football career.
"When spring 2016 came I just told myself I had to go hard because coach Vaughn didn't really know me," Catis said. "So I had to make a name for myself and when the first saw me hit someone, he called me Ironhead. That's how I got my nickname. From then on, every time I make a hit, it's not a simple hit, it's always a big hit. I really embrace that. I still feed off that knowing what I came from."
Catis nearly didn't finish high school out of Deerfield Beach, Florida. He attributed it to finding out he wouldn't be allowed to play football as a senior because he turned 19 before the Sept. 1 cutoff date.
"It really hurt me," Catis said. "I stopped going to school and missed like a month. They called me into the office and my mother was in the meeting and they said I wasn't going to be able to graduate with the class of 2015. When they told her, she started crying. When I saw her crying I knew I was one of her hopes. When I saw that it touched my soul. I just started going back to classes and talking with my teachers. They said if I wanted it I had to go get it. So I put in extra work and got all my credits and graduated.
"I almost gave up. Any time I practice now, I just go as hard as I can and leave everything on the field."
After having no scholarship offers in high school, Catis now has two as he enters his redshirt sophomore season at Highland. The most recent came from Arizona State, his first power five conference offer.
"I can't put it into words," Catis said. "It just feels great and it's a blessing from God. I'm very proud of myself right now.
"It came out of nowhere. It came on twitter. (Linebackers) coach (Keith) Patterson hit me up and said that he watched my film and that they were going to offer me. I just got off the phone with him five minutes ago. He said I remind him of (ASU linebacker) D.J. Calhoun. He loves the way I play the game, he loves my physicality."
Catis now prefers to be called by his nickname of Ironhead.
"I love football and I love contact," he said. "Anything coming my way, if they don't come with a purpose, they're going to feel me.
"When they first told me they were redshirting me, I wasn't even pissed. I just took that like, I have to get better. I was still learning so I took redshirting very serious. When I first got here I was 207 pounds and now I weigh 230 pounds."
An expectant mid-year graduate, Catis is nonetheless focused on the present. He wants to live in the moment and do everything he can to elevate the play of Highland.
"I feel I have to be a leader this year," he said. "We're going to have a lot of young guys. When they come in they like to joke around. But no, this year it's no joking around. Every time I'm in practice they will follow my lead. I will be a great leader. I could be doing a drill or coach could tell me to jog around the field. Everything I do, it's with great intensity.
"To be honest, I'm really excited about playing on the next level but I'm just focused on me being here right now."