The Trojans have a bye this week, so instead of looking at an exciting game in USC history, it’s time to turn our attention to one of USC’s many individual athletic legends. This guy in particular played for SC in the early 2000s and was a critical part in that 2003 championship effort. He received many a postseason honor before eventually leaving USC for the NFL. His pro career was cut short when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but the work he put in for Troy cements him as one of USC’s best defensive ends in history.
Of course, we are talking about none other than Kenechi Udeze.
Udeze played for Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans from 2001 through 2003, but it was that last season where he really exploded. Before then, he was a part of the 2001 Vegas Bowl appearance that USC made and was honored as USC’s defensive lineman of the year in 2002. Udeze’s six forced fumbles that season was a USC record, and alluded to the havoc he would wreak on teams in the season to come.
In 2003, he blossomed and recorded an incredible stat line along the way to helping USC completely smother teams defensively and make their championship run. He had 56 tackles that year, 26 of which were for losses. He even added a blocked field goal, a testament to his speed and ferociousness off the edge, and a fumble recovery to his resume. He was tied for first nationally in sacks, fourth (first in the Pac-10) in tackles for loss, and ninth in forced fumbles, averaging 1.3, 2.0, and 0.4 per game, respectively. He brought quarterbacks down hard and he did it often, punishing any team who let him get around that edge. Udeze had a knack for forcing opponents to lose control of the ball, something that really helped this Trojan team to flourish.
His efforts coupled with the incredible offense the Trojans had that season deftly guided USC to a national championship in 2003 and then the accolades came rolling in. Udeze lettered all three seasons while at SC and was an ’03 consensus All-American, A finalist for the Hendricks Award, an All-Conference first teamer, and was USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year for a second year in a row. He capped those honors by being drafted in the first round by the Vikings, being selected 20th overall.
In his time at SC, the Trojans were 29-9 overall. No doubt his stellar defensive end play helped tilt the record in the Trojans’ favor.
Kenechi Udeze’s only got to play four years of pro ball before acute lymphoblastic leukemia forced him into early retirement. As of now, the leukemia is in remission and in his time away from football he retured to USC to finish his degree. In May 2010, he graduated with a degree in sociology. Later, former USC assistant coach and current Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian hired Udeze as a strength and condition coach and an assistant defensive line coach. He also continues to work extensively with charities that do cancer research.
Though his pro career did not pan out the way he envisioned, he can always look back on his college career and remember just what an incredible impact he had on the 2003 season and how he etched his name into Trojan lore for all time with his performance.