When Kenechi Udeze took over as USC's interim defensive line coach for the Holiday Bowl last month, it took no time for the former Trojan All-American, national champ, first-round NFL draft pick, four-year NFL starter and survivor of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, to get up to speed.
He'd been thinking about this since he returned to USC. All he's ever wanted, BKU (for Big Kenechi Udeze who weighed 375 pounds as a Verbum Dei High School senior) has said since arriving after the 2014 season as a strength and conditioning assistant, was the chance to get back into coaching.
And now he will be doing just that with his naming Tuesday -- as had been strongly rumored for more than a week -- as the Trojans' D-line coach and the youngest member of Clay Helton's new staff. But as the interim D-line coach, he's already been a whirlwind on the recruiting trail this week.
Football is a simple game, BKU told us a year ago on his return to USC, from his point of view: "Football is about big men doing things right . . . when big men do, everybody wants to be around them."
BKU has a "recipe for success," as he calls it. "It's FBI . . . football intelligence. Anybody can make a play . . . it's who can make them consistently play after play after play. You only get so many plays a game. You have to make them when they come."
"A lot has changed," BKU said last January as he finished up his first week as an assistant to Ivan Lewis. "Kids don't have a clue what it takes . . . or they're confused."
He thinks he can help them. "I want to break into coaching," he said, "and having been around great coaches, people who know how to coach," he was sure he could. And now he has.
On taking over last month, he started showing his D-line guys tape of his USC days. Not for himself or his All-American teammates like Shaun Cody, but to show them what it looks like "when everybody does it right . . . it's all about technique." And discipline.
It's also about being smart. One way BKU changed the film sessions was by breaking them down with more study of the individual player each would be going against. The players liked that a lot -- and it showed as the D-line clearly was the one unit that improved its play from the end of the regular season to the Wisconsin game.
But this is no buddy-buddy deal. And that was clear from the first minute he met the USC line last January. "Pull up your pants," is the way he greeted one of them. "First impressions matter," he told the droopy drawers guy, "and you haven't made a very good one."
He was talking to Trojan Keary Colbert (now on the Alabama staff) about their USC days and they agreed that "There wasn't one game more intense than any practice . . . we were always competing . . . on every play."
BKU only hopes he can call things the way "Coach O [Ed Orgeron] did when called me and told me about Leonard [Williams] and said he thought he could wear my No. 94."
Not a bad call, BKU says, as he'll get to coach the next No. 94 in Rasheem Green, a similar-sized (6-5, 285 pounds) defensive end. "I just found out that every day when Leonard ran out of the McKay tunnel, he would touch my jersey plaque on the wall."
It's that connection he wants to pass on to the next generation of Trojans moving on to the NFL as he asks them what they're watching when they watch NFL games.
"Are you watching the 10-year guys?" BKU wants to know. "Those are the guys who know how to do things right. Watch them. There's a reason they've been around for 10 years."
But first things first. "Kids talk about the next level, how about starting by showing up on time," he says. "If your life isn't in order, how do you compete for a national championship?"
BKU has done both. At the age of 32, he's lived a lifetime through football. And as he becomes the final member of this USC staff, he'll be the lone coach who connects to the national championship Pete Carroll Era.
One of those connections was to Orgeron, now at LSU, the man who recruited him and was also mentioned for the job BKU has. "Coach O told me if I lost 30 pounds, they'd give me a scholarship," BKU said. "I thought I weighed 315. We didn't have a scale in our house so when they weighed me, I was 375."
He promptly lost 43 pounds, got his scholarship and then lost another 60 his redshirt first season in 1999 and was ready to play at 275 when Carroll arrived the next season and installed him as a starting defensive tackle then moved him to defensive end to make room for freshman Shaun Cody. "My quick-twitch muscles," BKU said with a laugh.
But it was more than that as he talks of what life was like at USC then. He says it was about doing the little things right the way he and All-American offensive tackle Jacob Rogers worked against one another every day. "I'd ask Jacob what he needed from me to get ready each week for the guy he was going against and I'd give him the best look I could."
By the end of his three seasons at USC in 2003, BKU was a consensus All-American, national champ and Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C., National Defensive Player of the Year after leading the nation in sacks. His six forced fumbles in 2002 set a USC record as he was named USC's top D-lineman both seasons.
But after four seasons as an NFL starter for the Vikings, he was having painful migraine headaches, then suffered a serious fall and found himself in the hospital. The numbers told the story. The average person has a white blood count of 4,000 to 8,000. "Mine was 285,000," BKU said.
"I was playing with blood cancer . . . I was in great health, a young African-American NFL player," he said with the shake of his head. What were the odds of that, he asked his doctors. Almost not possible, they told him. And yet there it was.
The Vikings wanted him back after he went into remission following aggressive treatment but he knew it wasn't going to work. "My feet were like cinder blocks," he said. Playing football would be in his past.
He moved on to four years in Seattle with Steve Sarkisian first at Washington and then as a strength and conditioning coach for a year as a coaching intern with the Seahawks. Before coming to USC, he spent a year at Pittsburgh as a strength guy but always with the aim of getting back on the field as a coach.
"You can do a lot of coaching in the weight room," BKU said.
But you can do a lot more where he is now.
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