As USC players made their way toward the field for the start of off-season conditioning early Thursday morning, Kenechi Udeze strode purposefully alongside them.
Udeze, the former USC All-American defensive end and first-round NFL draft pick, recently joined the staff as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.
“I feel great to be back home,” Udeze said.
Udeze was the 20th overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2004 NFL draft. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008 and retired in 2009.
Udeze was an assistant strength coach at the University of Washington for three seasons, interned with the Seattle Seahawks and worked as a coaching fellow for the Vikings. He joined the University of Pittsburgh staff as an assistant strength and conditioning coach in 2014.
Udeze worked with Ivan Lewis, USC’s strength and conditioning coach, at Washington and said “when the opportunity presented itself” to return to USC, he could not resist.
Udeze marveled at the two-year-old McKay Center and said he was looking forward to helping the Trojans and his alma mater. He recalled his own transformation from an out-of-shape freshman to a fit and powerful draft-eligible junior.
“You want to make an impact wherever you are,” he said, “but really, I think it kind of hits home a little more because you see yourself in these young men.
“As clueless as they may be coming from high school, like I was, it’s really good to give them what they need.”