Kudla saw time as a true freshman on OSU's 2002 national championship season. But he came down with a viral infection at season's end. That condition eventually caused Kudla to drop 40 pounds and he was hospitalized for a short time before he was able to recover.
He then missed spring practice last year, before regaining the weight and earning a spot as All-American Will Smith's backup at end. He made headlines late in the year by recovering a fumble for OSU's only touchdown in a 16-13 overtime win over Purdue.
Now, with Smith off to the NFL, the Buckeyes turn to the 6-3, 265-pound Kudla to man the all-important Leo end spot.
"It's going to be tough to fill his shoes," Kudla said. "He did a lot of great things here. He's worked with me. I think I'm ready to get going. I put a lot of work in during the off-season, so I think I'm definitely ready to go."
Kudla said he has relied on Smith to show him the ropes.
"I was lucky," Kudla said. "Will and I became good friends when I first came in. We lived together in that first camp. We've been good friends ever since then and he's kind of brought me along. It's been really good working with him. Even though he has gone on to the NFL, I have stayed in contact with him and we talk a lot."
Kudla has become a fixture in the film room, studying Smith's best moves as well as those by some of the top defensive ends in football as well as OSU's future opponents.
"It's a huge advantage," Kudla said of his film work. "The longer you spend in there, the better chance you will have in performing in the game. You can see different moves, way to set up people. A lot of it is little details like the way you take your first step or the way you put your hands."
Kudla also became known this off-season for his work in the OSU weight room. There, he set a program record with a 555-pound bench press.
"I knew since all these guys were going to be gone, I would have a chance to play a lot," Kudla said. "This would be my first full season of playing. I definitely had to get a good workout in. The summer went really well for us. I had a great summer. I'm glad to get all the lifting done and get into camp.
"(The record) just shows you're working hard and trying to get better. I love the weight room. That's where I've always excelled. I get addicted to and I just go. Hopefully, it is something I can convert over to the playing field."
But Kudla knows football is more than just a game of brute strength. Speed and agility are also important, especially for pass rushers coming off the edge.
"You have to learn the medium and the way to use that strength and ability," he said.
Kudla's affinity for the weight room began at an early age. He credits his parents for instilling him with a strong work ethic.
"I started out at a young age," Kudla said. "It's something that grew on me. I saw how it would better your performance. I just went hard all through high school. I guess I'm fortunate and blessed to have good genetics.
"I think (the work ethic) came from my parents and the way I was brought up. Everything I have, I had to earn. They really pushed me hard and believed in me. They taught me self confidence. Whatever I wanted, I had to go out and get. When I was 16 and I wanted a car, I had to go out and work to get it. They brought me along in everything – school, athletics, religion. They said, `It's up to you. You have to go get it.' "
On a team where it is hard to impress anybody with your physical prowess, Kudla has a number of admirers.
"He's a beast," defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said of Kudla. "He's one of the strongest guys on the team. He plays Leo, where he can play on the line or at linebacker. He's an all-around athlete. I think he is going to have a great year, stepping up for us."
Simon Fraser, who plays opposite of Kudla at end, said: "He works hard and that's his forte. He is unbelievably strong. Hopefully that will translate on the field this year. We just need him to keep working on his pass rush and push the quarterback up in the pocket so the defensive tackles can get pressure on him. If he plays well, he can take some pressure off one particular side and allow the blitzes to work.
"He's done a fine job going in and subbing for Will and understanding his role. Now, he just has to step up and go from there."
Although Kudla has 27 games experience at OSU, he will be a front-line player for the first time in 2004. He feels he is ready to have a big year.
"I definitely have high expectations for myself this season," he said. "I definitely want to go out and perform as hard as I can and have a great season. That's our team's attitude and our defensive line's attitude. My standards are extremely high. I'm probably putting more pressure on myself than I probably should, but that's the way it has to be."