As has already been mentioned, Vikings' defensive lineman Kenechi Udeze has announced his retirement from the NFL after attempting to come back from the acute lymphoblastic leukemia that caused him to miss the entire 2008 season.
Udeze's ascent to the NFL was a pretty remarkable one. He was born in Nigeria, and his family migrated to California during his youth. He was heavily recruited out of Verbum Dei High School and reported to the University of Southern California as a 360-pound defensive lineman. He red-shirted during his freshman season with the Trojans, during which his weight climbed even higher, close to the 400-pound range. Pete Carroll and company told Udeze that he needed to lose some weight if he wanted to continue his college football career. So, all BKU. . .Big Kenechi Udeze. . .did in response was drop about a hundred pounds. The added speed and quickness he gained helped him to lead college football in sacks in 2003 with 16.5. When the Vikings drafted him with the 20th overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, he was a lean, sculpted 280 pound defensive end.
Udeze had a pretty good rookie year in 2004, notching 36 total tackles and five sacks. The biggest highlight from that season probably came in the Vikings' tilt against Jacksonville at the Metrodome in Week 12. Although the game had been hyped as the return of Randy Moss from injury, it was Udeze who made the biggest play of the day. With just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Vikings held a 20-16 lead, but the Jaguars were driving down the field. On third-and-six from the Vikings' 19-yard line, Jaguars' quarterback Byron Leftwich dropped back to pass, and then began to roll to his right. As he brought his arm back to fire a pass to a wide-open Reggie Williams, Udeze caught up to him and knocked the ball out of his hand. The ensuing fumble was picked up by Kevin Williams, who rumbled 77 yards for the game-sealing score.
Sadly, 2005 was a lost year for Udeze, as he tore his ACL in the third week of the season against the Atlanta Falcons and missed the remainder of the season. The injury clearly slowed him down in 2006 as well, as he went the entire season without registering a sack, despite having a bunch of quarterback hurries that year. In 2007, however, he was finally back to his old form, as his five sacks tied him for the team lead, and he even snagged his first career interception in a blowout victory over the Detroit Lions.
Many people will look at nothing more than Udeze's career sack numbers. . .11 in his four NFL seasons. . .and immediately conclude that he was a bust. That couldn't be further from the truth. He certainly wasn't a superstar or anything, but he had matured into one of the NFL's best run-stopping defensive ends in his four years in purple prior to his diagnosis. I was selfishly hoping to see him back this season to see what kind of damage he could do lined up next to the Williams Wall and Jared Allen, but it simply was not to be.
We here at The Daily Norseman want to wish #95 the best in all of his future endeavors, and raise a glass to his continued health, well-being, and prosperity. Thanks for the memories, Kenechi. You'll be missed.