LOS ANGELES – Former USC All-American defensive end Kenechi Udeze, a first round NFL Draft pick and 4-year NFL starter whose inspirational story saw him overcome cancer that ended his playing days and led to a career in coaching, has been named USC’s defensive line coach, Trojan head coach Clay Helton announced today (Jan. 26).
“There are times in your career when you meet someone and just know that they are going to be a superstar in the profession,” said Helton. “Kenechi is that person. I was blown away by his attention to detail with technique and fundamentals in our recent bowl game preparation and in the interview process. His knowledge of the game is something that is going to be critical to the development of our young defensive line. Kenechi is a Trojan to the core and his passion for USC is felt by all.”
Udeze, 32, spent the 2015 season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at USC. He also assisted in the Trojan football office and for 3 weeks leading up to the Holiday Bowl he served as the team’s defensive line coach.
Prior to USC’s 2015 season, he served an NFL minority coaching fellowship with the Buffalo Bills during their fall camp and pre-season, working with the defensive line.
He began his coaching career as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Washington for 3 years (2009-11), where he also worked with the defensive line. The Huskies played in the 2010 Holiday Bowl and 2011 Alamo Bowl.
In 2012, he was the assistant defensive line coach with the Seattle Seahawks as the team advanced to the NFC playoffs, then in 2013 he was with the Minnesota Vikings during fall camp and the pre-season as part of an NFL minority coaching fellowship (he was involved with the defensive line).
He was the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Pittsburgh in 2014, helping with the defensive line (the Panthers played in the Armed Forces Bowl).
Udeze was a 3-year (2001-03) starting defensive end at USC, recording 135 tackles, 51 tackles for loss, 28 sacks, an NCAA record-tying 14 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries in his career.
As a junior in 2003 on USC’s national championship team, he was a consensus All-American first teamer (Troy’s first All-American first team defensive end since Tim Ryan in 1989), as well as a Hendricks Award finalist, the Washington D.C. Pigskin Club National Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Pac-10 first team selection and USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year. That season, he led the nation in sacks (1.3), was fourth in tackles for loss (2.0) and was ninth in forced fumbles (0.4), the only player in the nation in the Top 9 in each of those categories. His 26 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks in 2003 were the most by a Trojan defensive lineman since Ryan in 1989 and he was the first Trojan with double digits in sacks since 1992 (Willie McGinest). He also had 56 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery (for a touchdown), 3 deflections and a blocked field goal in 2003.
After redshirting in 2000, Udeze was a Freshman All-American second team pick in 2001 when he had 35 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, a fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles and a deflection as USC played in the Las Vegas Bowl. As a sophomore in 2002, he made All-Pac-10 second team and was USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year when he had 44 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, a school record 6 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception and a blocked field goal (the Trojans won the 2003 Orange Bowl and finished ranked fourth nationally).
He declared for the NFL Draft after his 2003 junior season and was a first round selection (20th overall pick) by the Vikings in 2004. He started 47 of 51 games in his 4 years (2004-07) with the Vikings, compiling 117 tackles, 11 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles.
As a rookie in 2004, he recorded 36 tackles, 5 sacks, a forced fumble and a deflection while starting 15 games for the Vikings playoff squad. He suffered a knee cartilage injury in the third game of 2005, sidelining him for the season after 2 starts. He started 15 times in 2006, getting 29 tackles, then had 47 tackles, 5 sacks a deflection and forced fumble with another 15 starts in 2007.
He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (a blood cancer) in 2008 and placed on injured reserve that season. He received chemotherapy treatments and had a bone marrow transplant from his brother. He was the Vikings’ recipient of the 2008 NFL Ed Block Courage Award, as voted by his teammates. After attempting to return to the playing field in 2009 but struggling with peripheral neuropathy in his feet as a result of chemotherapy, Udeze retired from the NFL that summer. His leukemia is in remission.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from USC in 2010.
He was a prep All-American lineman at Verbum Dei High in Los Angeles (Calif.), where he also was a shot putter on the track team.
He was born on March 5, 1983. His first name means “God’s love will always be with me” in Nigerian. His nickname as a USC player was “BKU,” which stood for Big Kenechi Udeze (he enrolled at USC weighing 375 pounds, but left at 275). He has been involved with charities that raise money for cancer research. He has a daughter, Bailey, 8.
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