Workout Warrior Kudla Looking for Career Year

Senior defensive end Mike Kudla sets records in the weight room, but now he wants to excel on the football field as well. We recently caught up with Kudla to get his thoughts on the defensive line, rehabbing from shoulder surgery, the upcoming jersey scrimmage and more.

Senior defensive end Mike Kudla has endured more than his share of bad luck thus far in his Ohio State career.

Soon after the Buckeyes captured the national championship in January of 2003, Kudla came down with a viral infection and lost 40 pounds. Not only was his playing career in jeopardy, but also his life.

Kudla made a full recovery, but still missed 2003 spring practice after injuring his shoulder during winter conditioning.

Kudla made it through the 2003 season healthy and played in all 13 games.

However, entering the 2004 season, he pinched a nerve in his neck and was limited during the preseason. Therefore, he lost his starting spot and played as a reserve the first half of the season.

However, he won the starting job back by week seven against Indiana. But the following week against Penn State, Kudla suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder making a tackle. His season was in doubt, but he decided to tough it out and postpone surgery until the offseason.

Despite the injury, Kudla enjoyed his best season to date. He had 28 tackles, six tackles-for-loss and four sacks.

This year, the 6-3, 265-pound Kudla believes that OSU could have one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten.

"That's definitely our mindset right now," Kudla said. "We definitely want to affect the quarterback and be dominant and disruptive and create havoc. So, that's our main thing right now is doing our job and getting to the quarterback. That's what we're here for, that's what we have to do."

Jim Heacock is in his first season as defensive coordinator and he is preaching the team concept.

"I think the thing that he instills in us now is he brings us into the whole concept," Kudla said. "He shows us how things work. And not just, ‘OK, you fill this gap, or you have this free rush.' But he lets us know exactly what is happening so we understand as a concept of what is taking place.

"He's very calm. He's taking it (the promotion from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator) in stride and he's done a great job so far of working with us and being very patient and just taking it day-by-day."

The Buckeyes made it through the first week of camp and are currently in the midst of two-a-days. It's a grind, but one thing the players like is hitting for the first time in four months.

"The first day of hitting is nice because you get back in there and everyone gets anxious because we've been walking around in shorts and shoulder pads and stuff like that," Kudla said. "So, definitely to put full pads on is kind of nice. Just to be back in here and working with everyone, it's kind of the culmination of all the summer workouts and spring practices and it's just good to back into it.

"It kind of lets you know… it kind of separates people. It lets people know where you are at and where your physical level is at and what your swagger is. The first day is always kind of rough as a practice because when you're out there you kind of worrying about beating your guy and not worrying as much about your assignments so much. So, I guess the main thing is that we tried to stay focused on doing our job and trying to stay physical."

There has been some talk that OSU's defense could blitz more this season. But Kudla says that the Buckeyes need to get pressure on the quarterback using just four linemen, allowing the linebackers to stay home.

"That's definitely what we have to do this year," he said. "We have to do that and I think we've done a great job so far of working to do that. Each day we're improving. So, come season, hopefully we'll be ready to just four man rush. Because you can't just blitz all the time. We've got to take some pressure off of our linebackers and safeties and stuff like that, so we definitely have to get four man pressure."

Kudla was asked if any of the young defensive linemen have been impressive thus far.

"I think the guys working on the edges: Lawrence Wilson and Doug Worthington have done a good job of coming in," he said. "They've done a good job of picking up the scheme and working hard.

"And Nader Abdallah and Sian Cotton have also done a really good job of stepping it up."

This offseason, Kudla broke his own OSU record in the bench press. He threw up 610 pounds, besting the previous mark of 555.

Kudla described his workout regimen.

"In the offseason, for me it was a little different because I had the shoulder surgery in January, so I was rehabbing a lot and pretty much getting my body ready for the season and camp," he said. "Kind of in-season now, it's a lot of maintaining, keeping yourself flexible, keeping yourself loose. Just trying to take as good of care as you can of your body, because that's your tool, that's your instrument."

But 610 pounds? That is off the charts.

"Yeah, coming off surgery, I never thought I would be able to touch a weight like that ever again," Kudla said. "But, kind of took it week-by-week and it just got better and better and better and finally I was able to hit that and it was kind of one of those freak things that you don't expect to happen. I just wanted to be healthy as I could be coming into camp and I guess I was kind of lucky."

Kudla says reaching 600 pounds wasn't a goal, it just sort of happened.

"Really coming into this season it wasn't much of a goal," he said. "I was just thinking I wanted to be as healthy as I could possibly be."

To guard against injury, Kudla did not have 610 pounds on the bar.

"Well, I didn't actually have 610 on there," he said. "I had 520 on there when I did it. I did 520 five times (which equates to 610). To reduce injury, we won't do a one-rep max.

"I'm definitely aware of the dangers. I've seen a lot of stuff happen with guys. Especially even here; I've seen Branden Joe snap a pec. So, I'm well aware of the dangers and I was smart this year, which is definitely knowing when to turn it on and when to take it easy."

Having the record in the bench press sounds good, but just how does it translate on the football field? How does being a workout warrior help Kudla on Saturdays?

"It really doesn't set a mark for you or anything," he said. "It will help you be a little more powerful with some of your rushes and some of your motions. But, for me, I make my living with my legs. My feet do all the work for me. I use my arms for such a short period of time. My biggest advantage that I use it for is locking with tight ends. When you're head up over a tight end, it's nice to be able to get up into that guy and get a hold of him and then be able to react on the play with that."

Kudla says the second-strongest man on the team is: "Probably Rob Sims."

The Buckeyes will have their twice-annual "jersey scrimmage" on Saturday in Ohio Stadium. It's offense versus defense and the coveted scarlet practice jerseys are up for grabs.

"The scrimmage kind of sets you a bench point," Kudla said. "You see what's working and what concepts guys are grasping. It really lets you know the players that can go out and play. Especially for the young guys, that's your first opportunity to go out there and perform and really show exactly what you can do and what your abilities are.

"This week we get a lot of reps in and kind of polish it up a little bit. Hopefully by Saturday we'll be ready to go and really just focus on your job and your assignment and make a couple plays."

It might not sound very important, but the players take it seriously. They all want the scarlet jerseys.

"For me personally, that's a big deal," Kudla said. "I really don't like wearing those white ones. It's been a while since we've had the scarlet on and I take a lot of pride in that. So, I hope this year – we've already been talking about it a little bit – but we really want those scarlet jerseys back."

Kudla says everything is coming along well during camp. He says there has been more progress at this point of camp compared to last year.

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "Last year, it was kind of like everyone was trying to sort out and find exactly what is going to happen. How are guys going to fall into positions and exactly where is the defense going to go. Well, coming into this year, I really think we have the mindset that we're a unit already. We're already put together and we've got to take it off from that point on. So, guys are really picking up the pace and keeping up the tempo and really working with each other to help each other out. It's not so much an individual thing. We're working as a unit."

As one of seven senior starters on the defense, Kudla has taken on a leadership role.

"Coming into our senior year here, we definitely have to put the pressure on us," he said. "That's the way it's always been here. Marcus and I have talked about it a lot. So, it's on us to burden the load and say, ‘Hey guys, we're going to step up and we're going to do it right and we've got to do our jobs the best we can. I think we've done a great job so far of starting that."

For two years, Kudla got the chance to learn from All-Big Ten players such as Will Smith and Darrion Scott. They were part of one of the best defensive lines to ever play at Ohio State.

"We certainly hope we can do those things," Kudla said. "Those guys were great players and they really showed us a lot. Living up to their legacy is a tough challenge, but I think we're ready to do that this year. We've really stepped it up and especially with this camp, we're just going to work hard and do the things that we're capable of doing."

Kudla says that the Bucks do not set team goals for sacks and tackles-for-losses. They want plenty of them, but they try not to get too caught up in statistics.

"We don't really have a benchmark of what we want to get to," he said. "It's more less, kind of work off our foundations of tackling, getting to the ball, attitude and effort. If you can do those things, the rest of the things will take care of themselves."

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