Interview with Kenechi Udeze

Now that USC's camp has started and the first college games are just around the corner we thought it time to meet one of key members of Wildbunch II, Kenechi Udeze. To stand out on the field with a no-nonsense team like the USC Trojans that has always gone with plain black cleats and have never put a name on a jersey is tough, but Kenechi Udeze has done just that - in fact, he's stood out to Trojan coaches since the day they offered him a scholarship.

The first way he did that was while he was still on his way to Troy.  Kenechi lost a small child, or at least the equivalent of one, when he transformed the 355lbs body that earned him the nickname BKU to a lean 285lbs and a starter for the Trojans.   The second way he caught people's eye was through his performance on the field as part of SC's own fearsome foursome, dubbed The Wildbunch II. Kenechi, which means ‘God's love will always be with me,' in Nigerian is truly a gift to all fellow Trojans, whether on the field or sitting in the stands.  He is truly a gift from God.


Talk about the transition from high school to college. 


"Well mentally I had a lot to learn. I came in focused solely on football and my grades suffered.  The playbook was so enormous that it took all my time just learning it.  I really had to extend myself to get everything done at the level I expect to be. Physically, I've always been big but I have trained hard to be more than that."


Where did you go to high school? 


"The greatest high school in the land Verbum Dei.  They don't have football right now but I still love that school.  In high school I was an offensive tackle and noseguard."


How do you like being a defensive end?


"I was being solely recruited as an offensive lineman and Coach O saw the potential in me to be a defensive end and I really appreciate that."


Lots of folks thought you would be on the inside and Cody would be on the outside, how are you guys different players? 


"Coach plays us to our strengths through techniques, like a 3, 5 or 6 technique. In our set up Omar is the Leo.  The Leo has the most freedom.  With me I usually get doubled off the tackle and tight end.  Mike plays off combination blocks from the center and the guard.  And Shaun, he gets the 3 technique which is normally on man.  He and Omar, because of their speed get those spots.  Those are the hot spots on the d-line because you have the chance to get more sacks and so forth.  They are all tough positions and it takes all four of us to get the job done."


Many folks are saying you guys are the best defensive line in the country.  I happen to be one of them and if that's true, tell me how that affects the offensive line and how they perform against you guys.


"Hey, it should always be the best going against the best.  And those guys are better than any opponent's line we've faced, at least through last year.  Thanks to Coach Davis, the O-line is a vastly improved squad from any prior years in my memory.  The toughest blockers are Winston and Jacob.  Jacob is a leader and Winston is already showing that he will be one of the best offensive lineman in USC history. He's just a step behind Jacob and that's saying a lot, considering he's only played one season.  I think by the time Winston is done, he'll be one of the best offensive linemen in Trojan history.  Fred brings the attitude and Lenny and Norm just get it done, day in and out.  They are the ultimate team leaders, those two."


Who's the toughest man on defense?


 "Well, I think I am.  I feel like on the line of scrimmage, I'm the toughest man on the field, at least that's the way I play.  Once I get a step on someone, I will never give it back.  I'm still working on my pass rush, but against the run I try to really play." 


I see that in you - in your demeanor.  I see a swagger with you on the field - it's like a stomp.  That's the way you march on and off the field. 


"Yeah, Coach O puts that in us.  He tries to tell me I'm soft.  He's pushing me cause there is no way I am soft.  Coach wants each of us to have that swagger - to believe in ourselves at the deepest level.  I know it's how I play the game and that's the same with the other guys on the line with me." 


Okay, so you D-liners are the tough guys, who else brings it? 


"Shoot, there's a lot.  I guess Groots is right there.  Groots is a little guy but he hits like a big man.  He even eats like a big man.  He does everything like a big man.  He's quiet, but we'll see each other in the halls of school and he'll always give me a little bump, trying to knock me around.  He's strong but I give it right back.  We're always playing around like that, trying to give each other a laugh.  He's really a stand-up guy."


You've won weightlifting trophies at USC.


"I got the weightlifting trophy my redshirt freshmen year.  I feel the least we can do is give 110 percent off the field, too.  You give it there and it repays you come the fourth quarter."  Where are you at right now in your lifting?  Well, I just did 480 lbs on bench and I'm told that's pretty good for a defensive end.  In the squat I muscled out 630 lbs, which is a USC record and did I 355lbs on the power lift.  I'm getting stronger all the time."  You've changed your body so much, what's your body fat now?  "I'm at 7.7 which is crazy for a guy my size."


Speaking of getting stronger - how's Shaun doing? 


"He's right there.  He looked almost normal in Spring and he's stronger than he's ever been.  Have you seen that guy lately? The man is huge.  I think he's going to be even better when he comes back.  I know how badly he wants it.  That's the key."


Talk about team leaders. 


"I try to be a team leader, especially in the weight room.  I think on the field, Keary Colbert is someone a lot of us look up to.  He's not a talker and won't fire you up that way, but what he does on the field and the way he does it, with such precision, confidence and consistency, it makes him a natural leader.  And Jacob, he's an enforcer.  He'll make sure no kind of nonsense is going on.  It's amazing to think he was recruited as a tight end and punter.  I look at how he transformed himself physically and where he has taken himself mentally and that to me is a true leader.  Groots is an outstanding leader, too.  I think all four of us on the defensive line have to be leaders.  It's a tough game to play and there has to be a unit that sticks out.  We play every play to excel.  In doing that, the others have no choice but to follow.  That's all part of Coach O's philosophy - our unit leads the way."


Looking into the future.  You have pushed yourself to such a level that I'm sure the NFL is sniffing around.  Where are you on the subject of going the distance and getting your degree, or testing the waters of an NFL career? 


"I've thought about it.  But for me it's team first and everything else follows after that.  I mean we were down there watching the combine this last year, seeing the seniors go through their work outs and it's exciting.  I plan to get my degree first but it is very exciting to think about playing in the NFL.  Plus, man there is only so much a body can take.  I go to take a shower and I feel the burn of a cut and I see there's another scar on me.  Every time I wonder how the heck that got there.  You get beat up.  If I ride in the car for more than an hour, I've got to get out and straighten my legs.  Imagine going to war against a three hundred pound man everyday.  Man.  I'm stiff walking around and I know there is only so much punishment my body can withstand.  You gotta be tough if you want to play football.  But I look at Shaun and Oscar - the whole idea of injuries.  It happens.  I have to take that into consideration when the time comes, but that isn't right now.  Right now, I am focused on USC and the goals we as a team have set for ourselves.  And beyond that, my family is all about education.  As you know, my brother Thomas passed the B.A.R. two years ago and is working with a firm in Minnesota. My sister graduated early and is a teacher and my other brother is was on scholarship at a boarding school in Colorado.  He's just a genius.  Thomas, he's always there for me and has shown me, through example, how important education is." 


When I first met your brother Thomas, in South Bend, I was truly impressed.  And then I meet your sister at the Orange Bowl and I realize this is just a family of achievers.  It made me realize too that there was a lot more to BKU than just muscle. 


"Thanks, our family sets goals and we all make sure the other is getting theirs done.  Or I should say, they make sure I'm getting mine done.  I had a tough time, academically, my freshman year and almost didn't make it back.  If it wasn't for the coaches and my family, I may not be in school right now.  I just had to set down some priorities and dedicate myself.  My gpa has been in the 3's ever since.  Plus I have a cousin who's at Stanford, so I have to keep up him.  He plays basketball there."


Who is that?  "Julius Barnes.  I go up there and see him.  When I was getting recruited, Stanford wanted me to come - they kept pitching the idea of being with my cousin, but I really liked SC." 


Well I can understand a young person's interest in Stanford.  If there was one school other than SC to choose, it would be Stanford.  Great academics, solid athletics, strong alumni and beautiful setting.  It just isn't SC. 


"That's right."


The defensive line is near legendary.  To a lot of people, me included, you fellas are Trojan heroes.  Who do you hold in that regard? 


"My mom.  She's been there for all us kids every step of the way.  She's the most influential person in my life. She'll get on me about school and then call to make sure I'm not hurting.  She comes to practices and every game.  I really appreciate that so much.  She makes so many sacrifices for me.  She was going to buy me a new car before she got herself one, just so I have it for school.  I told her, ‘mom, you get yourself taken care of...'  so she gets one I can drive.  She'll always put us first.  People at school sometimes don't understand why I am out here every chance I get.  When my brothers and sister were away at school, it was just me and my mom.  Times were tough, I mean we were broke as hell.  We struggled but it was those hard times that made us so close.  We went through it together.  I had a chance to leave too but I knew there was no way I was going to leave my mom. She did so much to get each of us on our feet, I wanted to be close by.  I made a mistake when I was asked to name my hero for the media guide... I listed a sports hero but I should've said my mom.  Plus my brother Thomas, who has been nothing less than the perfect example for me."


What about being other people's hero?  Being a USC Trojan, as well as part of perhaps the best defensive line in Trojan history (all due respect to Cowlings, Smith and the boys...), you guys have become people's, especially kids' heroes.  How do you feel about that? 


"Lucky.  I really try to be a good example.  I take the time to talk to people.  I really try to be friendly and available.  After the Spring Huddle I had a kid come to me and ask me to come to his birthday party. I went and had a great time."


Talk a little bit about Coach Carroll. 


"He is our head coach and our best friend.  The door is always open.  I love playing for him.  I respect him so much for what he has given us." 


What about Coach O? 


"He gives us everything he has and expects it back.  It's hard.  He's a great coach and at the end of the day he's back to joking with you."


What is your most memorable moment since you arrived at SC?


"When I got named a starter as a redshirt freshman.  I came down the Coliseum stares and my eyes started to get watery.  It felt so good."  What about off the field?  "The work I did academically.  Everyone helped me, my mom, my brother and sister and my coach but the most important person was my tutor.  She kept working with me until I got it and when I received my first 3.3 I made a hundred copies of my report card and pasted them up everywhere.  Lots of folks did lots of work to keep me at SC.  I thank God I was given that chance."


What are your interests outside of football? 


"I have so little time but career wise, I am really interested in real estate.  I love music, too.  I've always been a big music guy.  So if anything, I would enjoy working in that field." 


What do you listen to get geeked up prior to a game? 


"You're gonna laugh, but I like Aersosmith's ‘Dream On.'  That song gets me pretty excited.  When Coach Carrol first became head coach, he put a tape on that featured great athletes, past a present.  They used that song and it's always stuck with me.  I visualize myself playing at that level and my own prior plays where I've done well." 


What are those plays? 


"Against Kansas State when I tried to recover a fumble.  It was right there in front of me and I wanted to pick it up and take it to the house but I didn't.  I still love that play and could see making it. And then against Stanford, when I got an interception.  I got up and ran because I wanted a touchdown so bad." 


Who do you model yourself after?


"It used to be Warren Sapp but when I got moved to defensive end, I'd have to say Jevon Kearse because of the sort of athlete he is.  It's amazing to think he runs a 4.4 with that size.  He has the fastest ten yards in football.  You know people talk a lot about big guys who push people around but I am more impressed with a big man who is athletic.  That says a lot to me. Right now, I'm just under a 4.8 but I'm working with coach Carlisle on my speed." 


So do you have any other hobbies. 


"Eating.  I like to eat.  Fettucine with shrimp, soul food... any food... man I'm getting hungry now.  I'm kidding.  I play basketball to help with my footwork and coordination.  Other than that, I lift weights and go to school.  I love lifting weights.  I set goals in the weight room and push myself until I achieve them."


We've lost some key seniors, where do you see that impacting SC most? 


"Well, Carson had a brilliant year and that's going to be hard on us.  Losing Troy will be tough too but Jason has proven he can really play and Darnell is special.  Wherever you put Darnell he is going to be a very good player.  Mike Ross is great too.   I guess the quarterback and mike linebacker will be the key places to watch.  I think we've got the talent to get there quick, though.  It's always hard replacing seniors.  Experience means a lot in college football."  What about running back?  "I think Herschel is great.  We won't lose a step with him.  Plus I think we have some real impact players coming in and our defense is only going to be better.  I think we're right there."


In closing, talk about BKU - Big Kenechi Udeze.  How do you feel about that?


"You know Coach O gave me that nickname and I love it.  I got BKU on my rings." 


Those are nice rings and a fitting way to end a season, Orange Bowl Champs and Co-Pac Ten Champs.  You believe in what Coach Carrol says when he says ‘We're just getting started...' 


"Yes I do.  I know it's true.  You guys just wait and see." Top Stories