Slimmed Down But Still Playing Large

Nov. 6, 2001

Before he even played a down at USC, redshirt freshman defensive end Kenechi Udeze had been given the nickname 'BKU,' as in 'Big Kenechi Udeze.'

And it was fitting.

At 6-3 and 355 pounds, he was as big as they come. As a lineman at Verbum Dei High in Los Angeles, he was quite a star, collecting 27 sacks in his last two seasons. The only problem was, he was eating his way out of an opportunity to get a football scholarship. BKU was just too darn big and showed no signs of getting smaller.

'It was hard to do things at that weight,' said Udeze. 'It was hard to tie my shoes. I really didn't think a lot of schools would be looking at me because I was so big. It wasn't until my high school coach said that schools wouldn't recruit me because of it that I started to do something about it.'

And boy, did he ever.

'Basically, what I did was I stopped eating a lot of carbohydrates and stopped drinking soda,' said Udeze. 'I exercised a lot and lifted weights. A lot of it took care of itself. I also didn't eat past 9 p.m. That's when I used to call Pizza Hut and say 'Can I get two large pizzas?' I lost 25 pounds in the first month of my diet.'

Suddenly, schools that had backed off on Udeze because of his weight began to come around again. But one coach from one school had been there the whole time for Udeze: USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. When it came time to make his choice for college, that loyalty weighed heavily for Udeze.

'I picked USC because even when I was overweight, they stayed with me and said they still wanted me,' said Udeze, who skipped eighth grade and was just 17 when he enrolled at USC in the fall of 2000. 'A lot of schools didn't want me because of my weight. It wasn't until I started losing weight my senior year that they started coming around again and wanted me. Coach Orgeron is one of the main reasons I came, too. He.s really a good role model right now for me.'

Udeze also liked USC's defensive line tradition.

'Whenver you get recruited, you like to see who the school has produced,' he said. 'USC has had Darrell Russell and Gary Jeter, among others. There have been some good defensive linemen here and I'd like to keep that going.'

Udeze quickly realized that to do that, he'd have to keep his weight-loss regimen going, too. During his 2000 redshirt year, his body continued to transform. The chubbiness melted away to reveal a sculpted, muscular physique. As the 2001 season approached, he weighed in at a svelte 275 pounds. Teammates started calling him 'MKU' (as in Medium Kenechi Udeze) or even LKU (Little Kenechi Udeze). Amazingly, he had dropped 80 pounds.

'I felt really good about myself,' said Udeze. 'Now, people think I'm narcissistic because I take off my shirt in the weight room, but it's really because it's such a big turnaround from what I used to look like. When I first came to USC, I had 31 percent body fat. Now I'm at about 10 per cent.'

The newly light-footed Udeze had a stellar spring practice and was entrenched in the rotation at defensive tackle heading into the summer. During fall camp, however, he was moved to the end spot and has started seven games there, making 25 tackles, including six for losses and two sacks and recovering a fumble. He had seven tackles against Kansas State and four against San Jose State.

'As long as I'm playing, I really don't mind playing end,' said Udeze. 'But I think I'm more of an inside guy because my speed isn't really up to par to play end right now. I think by next year I should have prototypical defensive end speed and I should be a better pass rusher. One thing is that I need to use my hands better. Coming off the edge, you can't just bull-rush tackles. You have to use your hands.'

But Udeze, whose first name means 'God's love will always be with me' in Nigerian, wants to be known for more than just football.

'Right now I'm interested in the music industry,' he said. 'I want to be a producer. I've been in a couple studios. My friend from elementary school turned me on to it. I know how to do a few things on the mixing board. I'm not ready to make a platinum CD just yet, though that's one of my goals, but I can do a little something.'

In the meantime, it looks like he and fellow freshmen defensive linemen Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson have quite a future together. all had their moments this season, but Udeze can pinpoint exactly when he knew he.d be able to make an impact.

'It was the first game against San Jose State,' he said. 'I did everything my coach told me to do. I sent my guy to the floor and made my first tackle and that's when I knew I could play college football. Later, I chased down (San Jose State running back) Deonce Whitaker from behind and I thought, 'Yeah I can do this.' I felt really good about myself. I came to the sidelines and Coach Orgeron said, 'You can take off your helmet now.' Everyone else had taken theirs off, but mine was still on because I was ready to get back in there.'

No matter how small Udeze gets, he can still keep his nickname. Just don't think the word 'Big' has to refer only to his size.

It also can refer to his play on the football field.

By Chris Huston
Assistant Sports Information Director

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