UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks wins Butkus Award
UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks didn’t know that a test was going to follow a workout this week.
Sal Alosi, the Bruins’ strength and conditioning coach, had some trivia questions for gathered football players.
“Coach asked me, ‘Do you know who leads the NFL in fumble recoveries?’ ” Kendricks said. “I said, ‘Raymond Lewis?’ He said, ‘No, this guy right here.’ ”
Alosi pointed to NFL Hall of Fame member Dick Butkus, who had slipped onto Spaulding Field. The surprise soon became clear to Kendricks. He was handed the 2014 Butkus Award, given annually to college football’s best linebacker.
Kendricks is the first UCLA player to win the trophy, which was first awarded in 1985. Only one other player from a team west of Colorado has won the award, USC’s Chris Claiborne in 1998.
“I didn’t expect it,” Kendricks said. “I was so happy to be a finalist. I think I was protecting myself in case I lost. When I saw the trophy and that they were going to give it to me, I was like, ‘Oooooh,’ and the emotions started to rush over me.”
Kendricks’ 471 tackles surpassed the UCLA record set by linebacker Jerry Robinson (1975-78). This season, Kendricks has 139 tackles and three interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown.
Butkus, who played for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1973, was an All-Pro eight times.
“Meeting him was a huge accomplishment in itself,” Kendricks said. “When you think NFL football, you think Dick Butkus.”
Well, linebackers do anyway.
“He may have been before our time, but we definitely respect him,” Kendricks said. “He paved the way for linebackers, ruthless, mean linebackers. I was so shy and emotional when he shook my hand that I could hardly say anything. I just wanted to thank him so much.”
Kendricks won the Butkus Award despite being selected only to the All-Pac-12 Conference second team.
Kendricks offered no explanation as to how that happened, saying only “it’s crazy.”
Pac-12 coaches went with three linebackers on the first team: Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson, and Arizona’s Scooby Wright III.
Kendricks shrugged it off.
“It gives me that underdog chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I worked so hard for this award. I don’t want to be too boastful, but I wore my butt out every day. I did earn this.”
Kendricks is also a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which will be awarded Sunday night.
UCLA finished with a 9-3 record and ranked 14th in the college football playoff ranking. Yet, defensive back Ishmael Adams was the only Bruin chosen first-team all-conference. UCLA had eight players on the second team.
“From what I’ve seen in the past, I’m not surprised at all,” Kendricks said. “It seems completely random at times. A lot of people did a great job for us. As long as someone recognized we did well.”
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