by Garry Paskwietz
One of the new assistant coaches for the Trojans this spring is Kenechi Udeze, a former All-American defensive end at USC who also is the all-time sack leader at the school. Udeze spoke after a recent practice to give his thoughts on the goals of spring ball and what it means to come back to his alma mater to coach the position he once played.
Talk about the feeling when you found out you were getting the job.
KU: When I found out I got the job, it was about a 30 second, I don’t want to say sense of accomplishment, but it was like ‘damn, finally’. And then I got right back to work. It’s a great feeling but I’m not one to sit back in my office and put my feet up, drinking a Starbucks latte. I’ve prepared myself for this moment for a long time, and I’m prepared to coach these young men.
What are you looking to accomplish this spring?
KU: I want guys taking steps forward. It’s never going to be perfect. It’s not going to be the way I want it to be every single day but I know this, if everybody has the mindset of being accountable then we can take those steps. I just want them playing with a high effort, giving attention to detail and, most importantly, they need to know I’m going to step on their shoes, that’s my job, but I’m going to leave a damn good shine when I’m done with them.
I want them to understand their bodies in order to be technically sound. I don’t care how fast you are or how high you can jump. I care about you paying attention to detail and being technically sound. To me, the power is in the learner and that’s the approach I take every day, how can I get these guys to understand better so that they can perform better?
What are your impressions of the group so far?
KU: I see a lot of gifted kids, a lot of talented kids, but this game of football isn’t measured on your talent. I’ve played with some of the most talented guys you can think of, but were they technicians? Were they guys who, no matter what, would win the war of attrition? I was proud to play with guys like that, Troy Polamalu, Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, Omar Nazel, Lofa Tatupu. It wasn’t about themselves, it was about everybody else. It was about selflessness. It starts with the jersey you put on. We don’t have the names on our backs for a very good reason. The game of football is the ultimate team sport, it’s not about any one guy’s accomplishments.
The d-line lost 5 seniors from last season, what kind of challenges does that present?
KU: I have full confidence in these young men that we’re going to be better than we were and it’s not going to be surprising to me because they have great ability. It’s like when you take a car in, sometimes that first mechanic may not tune it up the right way. But that’s the good thing about where I was last year, I was able to watch the guys, to see them, so the process has already been started to get them tuned up my way.
I’m not going to ask these guys to do anything they can’t do. I just want them to compete. Once you start to compete you start to understand what you’re capable of doing. I want them to understand the position they are playing because so much of it is muscle memory, stepping and striking, getting separation, and for a lot of young defensive linemen those are things they struggle with. It’s just a matter of reps and it will start to come to them more as they get older and we’ll start to see more finished products.
Is anyone standing out to you so far?
KU: Everyone is at the same point right now. When we get into fall camp closer to the season we’ll start putting the pieces in place because they will have proven it to me. Nothing is given, nothing is set in stone.
Antwaun Woods and George Uko are former players who took some reps during practice drills, how did that come about?
KU: It’s great. I challenge any defensive lineman who is still working toward his NFL goal to come on out here, go through some drills and try to get better. The game was taken from me early at 24 and I would do anything to be in their shoes, that’s why my door is open for them. If they need me, I am here for them. I want all of my players to know that.