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Linebacker Eric Kendricks was looking forward to entering the family business – both his father Horace and his brother Mychal played pro football – but had no idea that his NFL journey would reunite with one of his best friends from college.
Kendricks was a tackling machine at UCLA who left the Bruins as their all-time leading tackler (481), the only player to register more than 100 tackles in three different seasons and the 2014 winner of the Butkus Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy. He knew his resume would get him a job in the NFL, but he couldn’t fathom being teamed up with his best friend and roommate from college – Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
The two jokingly theorized how cool it would be if the football gods brought them together in the pros. When he got the call from the Vikings that the far-fetched idea had come true, it took a while for the reality to sink in.
“When I got the call, it took me at least a minute to really realize what was happening – where I was going and who I was playing with,” Kendricks said. “I really felt like (I was being) kind of disrespectful because I wasn’t saying much, but I was just in complete shock. Once it finally clicked, I was so happy.”
When Kendricks texted Barr with the news, at first Barr thought he was ribbing him. He didn’t think it was a possibility. Barr hadn’t been approached by either Rick Spielman or Mike Zimmer about his thoughts on Kendricks coming to the Vikings. And, given that there are 32 NFL teams, what were the odds of both of them ending up on same team?
Against the odds, it happened. Kendricks said that when the pick was announced Barr called him and he was so excited, but Kendricks couldn’t understand half of what Barr was saying.
When the reality set in, Barr still had a hard time containing his excitement.
“I’m pretty excited,” Barr said. “That’s one of my best friends. He was my roommate in college and my teammate in college. Now we’re on the same Minnesota team. Stuff like this doesn’t happen. It’s pretty special. I’m excited selfishly for myself because we have such a good relationship.”
Kendricks didn’t have much exposure to the Vikings other than a visit at the NFL Scouting Combine, but asked the Vikings brass what they envisioned of him. He was told they would be looking to play him at middle linebacker, but his versatility could see him play multiple roles.
Barr agreed, saying the Vikings got themselves a talented player who will upgrade the defense from Day One.
< br> “He’s a very tough football player, very smart, physical, hard-working and a natural leader,” Barr said. “He’s going to do great things for us and I couldn’t be happier.”
Although Kendricks and Barr have discussed the Zimmer defense, it’s still something unfamiliar to the newest Viking. Kendricks made it clear, however, that he can’t wait to get to the Vikings and start learning the ins and outs of the new defense.
“I can’t wait to play in it, that’s what I’m saying,” Kendricks said. “They feed a lot to the linebackers. You have the front going on (with) four-down, you have my boy A.B. coming off the edge and behind the ball sometimes. I don’t know too much, but I’m eager to learn.”
The only question to be resolved is whether Kendricks will be NFL-ready from the get-go. Barr has no doubts about that and he should know just about as well as anyone.
“After spending five years at UCLA – maturing and growing up – and knowing what kind of person he is, how hard he works, how seriously he takes the game and how much he loves football, I definitely think he’s NFL-ready,” Barr said.
Kendricks said he is making his primary goal to accomplish his wish of being an immediate starter. He isn’t expecting to be handed anything, but is willing to do what it takes to accomplish his dream and move into the starting lineup next to his college buddy.
“That’s definitely going to be my goal coming into this whole thing,” Kendricks said. “I’m going to work for that. I’m not going to say that I’m going to because I still have to work for that. That’s obvious, but I’m going to prepare like I’m a starter and I’m going to prepare like I’m going to the Super Bowl. That’s how I’ve always done it and that’s how I always continue to do it.”
It may have taken Kendricks a little longer to learn his NFL destination, but the wait was worth it and he’s ready to hit the ground running on the next chapter in his life.
“I wasn’t worried about where I went, I just wanted to get to an organization and playing for the right reasons,” Kendricks said. “Just being in the NFL in general is my dream come true. I just can’t wait to play, honestly. Everything will take care of itself on the field.”
“Being 5 and being in the pros is definitely an accomplishment of mine,” Kendricks said. “I’ve dreamt about this since I was 3 years old, so it’s a pretty big deal to me that I’m 5 and I’m entering the NFL.
“Being a leap-year baby is crazy. It has its perks and it has its weaknesses as well. Some people forget when it’s my birthday.”