Kudla Wants To End OSU Career With Win

OSU defensive end Mike Kudla was a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes in his senior season. Now, Kudla has a chance to have a big impact in OSU's Fiesta Bowl appearance against Notre Dame. Click here for more on Kudla.

Ohio State senior defensive end Mike Kudla is bent on beating Notre Dame for his final game in a Buckeye uniform.

"The coaches designed the practices to get us going," he says. "They do a good job of building us up so we peak at the right time. The main thing is to have our focus on Notre Dame and be mentally ready to play."

He knows that is easier said than done. For starters, the Irish are bringing in a powerful offense led by an unflappable Brady Quinn. Quinn's worst byline this year is better than many starting quarterbacks. He has succeeded in setting a new Notre Dame record for passing yards in a season, and with a month for Charlie Weis to prepare him admittedly is feeling confident.

"Even with the off week you are able to see what he is able to do with the game plan in an extended period of time," says Quinn. "Seeing what he is able to do with a month is really almost allows you to feel invincible. He prepares you for every kind of situation you are going to be in out there and that allows you to have confidence with every play no matter what. That is the biggest key out there in running a game is just having confidence in what you are doing because even if you are going up against not the look we would like to be in – it is still going to have a positive outcome if we can make something happen."

Kudla and the rest of the Buckeye defensive front seven know to have any hope of stopping the Irish they must first stop the run and disrupt Quinn. They must derail a rapidly improving unit before it rolls over them like a runaway train.

"The dominant offense they run, each week you see them getting better. It fits into what they have – a great offensive line, great receivers and a great offensive back. They do a good job of mixing things in and picking things up. If a defense throws something different to them, they are able to adapt. The key thing is they have great play makers and they get those guys the ball when they have to."

Quinn in particular presents a challenge according to Kudla; "You can see as he goes on, his comfort level gets better and better. As soon as he feels like he is in control of a game, he's able to hit those guys in stride and make some pretty amazing plays. You can see that as the games progress he has definitely gotten better this year."

And if this wasn't enough to think about, Kudla admits to still being plagued with the occasional lingering memory of his illness in 2003. Fans of Ohio State are more than familiar with the story. Shortly after the national title Fiesta Bowl in January of 2003, Kudla was struck down and nearly killed. He spent days in the hospital, was given last rites, and at one point he bled from his eyes.

"When we were here two years ago with Kansas State it rang more in my mind because it was my first time back," he admits. "You're not sure how everything will go. This time it is nice to have everything out of your mind and not any worries. When we played Kansas State there was a little sitting back there, ‘last time you were here it got real bad.' But it has worked its way out. It was a huge impact with that sickness. It affected me. It changed me forever. It's something that will stick with you."

Head coach Jim Tressel isn't surprised he is having flashbacks of sorts; "It was right after we left here that he contracted the sickness. Memories do…'I remember when I started not feeling so well we were' - wherever you were. I'm sure it is, but Mike's the kind of guy who will put that aside and go play like crazy.

How did it change him exactly?

"You look at what a big impact it made on me and my family," observed Kudla. "You don't take things for granted as much as you used to. To be with these seniors it means a little more to think where you have been and how bad it got. You savor things a little bit more."

In the meanwhile, Kudla tries to forget. He isn't always successful, but he at least tries.

"I don't think about it on a daily basis. More-so when you are with your family and kind of that stuff. Or, when you hear about it again or someone brings it up. That's when you kind of really start thinking about it again. For me I try to block it out more than anything. You don't want to just stick on that. It happened. It affected me. I moved on from that. You still have to remember you are lucky to be here and how close it really got."

It was close – a little too close. His coaches still get a look in their eye when speaking of the matter. Jim Heacock took a breath the other day before saying, "Having gone through that with he and his family and that whole ordeal was just a scary situation for their family."

Still, he says he is more than pleased with what he has seen from his senior defensive end; "To see him come through…and any time you see a guy that has his adversity. He has had injury and adversity ever since he has been here. To see him come through and have a great senior year is very rewarding. You always want that to happen. You always hope that happens to good people and guys that work hard and continue to work hard."

If this were not enough emotional baggage, there is the emotional aspect of saying goodbye to playing on the field with his fellow seniors.

Kudla reminisced, "I've known most of these guys for the last five or six years. We all came in together. We had huge hopes of doing things. You look at that, and we were able to do those."

It's not just the on the field accomplishments that tell the tale for him however, "For me I think the best time we have had is just at practice or hanging out or doing normal stuff. Once you come to games for us it's fun. A lot of people noticed how much fun we have playing together. It's awesome to be out there. When you are clicking on all cylinders and you are playing it's just as good as it can get. You are making tackles, guys are hitting people, guys are flying around – it's just so much fun."

So Kudla will take the field for one final time Monday with a lot on his mind. It's the scene of his greatest joy and the city where he experienced the most pain. It's a game with high stakes that will require serious preparation, but you can bet he will be trying to have fun. It's going to be the last time he plays with his 2002 recruiting compadres even if it won't be the last time their paths cross.

He will be saying farewell but not goodbye, closing a chapter – one might even argue a novella – in his life.

"It's something I am going to miss not being a part of," he said.

Fans, players, and his coaches will miss him too – not just because he played and played well. They will miss him for what he played through and risen above.

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