February 4, 2013
Exit Interview: Nnamdi Ezenwa
Nnamdi Enezwa didn't get much of a chance until his senior season.
But once the fifth-year senior hit the field as a backup linebacker, he tried to make the most of his opportunity. The Georgia native finished with 21 tackles last season, including three for loss and a sack. And he forced a fumble.
We caught up with Enezwa last week for his senior "Exit Interview."
Gold and Black: What are some of your memories of your playing career at Purdue?
Ezenwa: "I would probably say beating Ohio State in 2009, and then winning at the Big House for the first time in a long time - those really stood out to me. Those are probably some of the best games we had."
Gold and Black: You have to look back at this last year pretty fondly. This was your opportunity to play more significantly. Was it fun to be out there more than just a special teamer?
Ezenwa: "Yeah, it's always fun to be out there. I'm a competitor, so being able to contribute not only on special teams but also at linebacker; that was really a fun time being able to help my team in many ways. So yeah, this year was an opportunity to show people what I had."
Gold and Black: You got a sack this earlier this year; that had to be a personal highlight in terms of a play, right?
Ezenwa: "Yeah, back in high school, I was just accustomed to getting to the quarterback, so for me to get my one-and-only sack, that was really special against Notre Dame, that's a memory that is always going to last."
Gold and Black: Especially playing in that kind of environment in front of all those people.
Ezenwa: "Yeah, that was a great experience playing supposedly one of the great programs, especially playing one of your rivals at their place and being able to contribute and show people what you have. That was a great experience, especially against Notre Dame."
Gold and Black: Were you hoping when you got here that you would get more of an opportunity to play? What was it like to go through the process of not really getting playing time until your senior year?
Ezenwa: "I mean, it's hard because I am a very competitive person. I pride myself on, if I am going to be out there, I am going to be the fastest and I want to show people how I am and all that. It was hard at first. Being a young player, you want to play right away, but as you grow older, you learn some things about the game of life and you learn that you are going to have setbacks and it is not what you do when things are going well, it is how you handle adversity. So there were times when I was really down, but I always prided myself on working hard and I just realized that things just happen, injuries are a part of the game, so it's not something I can really be mad at. It's just something that happens, injuries just happen. Multiple injuries happen all the time. I just took it upon myself to make sure I got as healthy as I could and make the most of my time at Purdue and I did that. It's just something that you go through that when you are older, you learn that you can't always control things."
Gold and Black: What kind of injuries did you have over the years?
Ezenwa: "My freshman year my hamstring kind of bugged me and then I had a really bad shoulder injury that took them a while to diagnose where it was. No one really knew what was wrong with me, but over time that just got better. I had a hand injury in the spring going into my senior year, so I had to come back from that."
Gold and Black: We always heard about your athleticism. Do you feel like you finally turned that athleticism into know-how in terms of defense and assignments and things like that?
Ezenwa: "Not really. I feel like my athleticism, I always saw flashes of my athleticism, going back to freshman year. Me knowing how to use it was really never the problem. It was more so adjusting to the physicality of the Big Ten as far as getting my body to the right size, because I came in undersize. Like, I'm still technically undersized for my position, but I came in at 185 (pounds), so my speed and my athleticism is what gave me an advantage on the football field. I think when I got older, it was more so really learning the game as time went on. So finally having the body to do things more confidently, more physically. That was the biggest thing, being able to put on weight and being able to learn the game as a linebacker and all that in a big-time conference."
Gold and Black: Was it always tough for you to put on weight and was there anything weird that you tried to gain weight or anything?
Ezenwa: "I just remember freshman year, coming in and you see some of the bigger guys like the Anthony Heywood's and the Jason Werner's and these are the kind of guys that I'm going to have at it with in practice. It can be kind of scary as a freshman; you go from being one of the biggest guys at your high school and you are like 'Wow, this is really the Big Ten conference.' There would be times when I would be eating with some of the other freshmen and we would just be stuffing our face at breakfast, eating as much as we can, trying to gain weight. I just remember drinking a Gatorade shake and protein shakes with my teammates and drinking a lot of water so I could pack on the pounds so I could keep up with the big dogs.
"It wasn't really hard to put on weight, my body kind of fluctuates; I've been at 230, but my typical weight is 225-226, but I never get any lower than 220. It's different in terms of maintaining your body weight in the summer compared to in-season. You're really not going to eat as well in-season with all of the football and classes and the games and the practices. But for the most part I have been able to maintain my weight around 225."
Gold and Black: What are some of your best memories in terms of teammates or off-the-field stuff? Just being a part of a team like you were.
Ezenwa: "There's so many memories. I always said, and I just talked to some of the guys recently, I always told them, and what kept us together during that three-game winning streak, what kept us together was the team. You are always going to remember the football games you played and sit back and say 'Man, we almost had Ohio State' or 'You remember the year we beat Ohio State?' The biggest thing I feel like is that you create a bond with your teammates is the little things, the funny moments you have off the field in your rooms and I can just remember, there's so many memories that I don't have a specific one.
"But I feel like one that really characterizes all my teammates would probably be one time in the locker room, we have some characters on our team - some funny guys on our team. The guys that really stood out to me as being funny guys were Gavin Roberts and Tommy Thomas. There would be times where everybody would start dancing in the locker room, jumping up and down, just listening to music and having a good time and everybody is just laughing. Everybody is really close to each other, everybody is having a good time and not thinking about football, everybody is just enjoying each other's company. That would probably be one of the best moments when we had everybody in the locker room dancing and just having fun."
Gold and Black: What was it like to play for Danny Hope?
Ezenwa: "We had our ups and downs in terms of what we were able to accomplish in the program the last few years. Many people had their opinions of Danny Hope - some good, some bad. Certain things don't always work out and that is not on one person. Everyone wants to point the finger at Danny Hope, but every person has to do their jobs as far as the players and the coaching staff, upper management. I remember being around coach Hope and he was an energetic guy. What a lot of people don't know is that when he was at Eastern Kentucky, he recruited me, and so then when he got to Purdue, Coach (Brock) Spack found out and so that is when Coach Spack became interested in me. I'm thankful that he gave me the opportunity to play at a big-time school. It's mixed emotions in there when you go 'He recruited me,' and this and that and at the time you come in you are expecting to win a lot of games and then that doesn't work out. But at the end of the day, I'm thankful for the opportunity that Coach Hope gave me."
Gold and Black: Who are some of the best players you played with during your career?
Ezenwa: "There's a lot of guys. The two people that probably stood out to me the most that I had a lot of respect for were probably Chris Carlino - I just love the energy he brings. He's a perfect example of how you can go through some down times in your career; he started and then his time slowly diminished throughout his career. One thing about Chris is that he never complained about anything, he worked hard, and he was a funny guy. I used to love being in meetings with him and watch film with him and just seeing how he interacted with the coaches.
"That's probably one of the toughest football players I played with. Not just the things he did at linebacker but also on special teams he would bring his energy. Chris wasn't the fastest guy or the biggest guy, especially for a linebacker, but when he got on the field he made up his mind that he was going to play hard and he was going to play aggressive. He was just a thankful guy and he was grateful for everything and I looked up to him. I told him he was one of the best guys to play with.
"And another one would have to be Robert Marve. He's a true competitor and he loves the game of football. Just for him to go out there and play on a bad knee like that. A lot of people looked up to that and it made you go, 'If he's out there, giving it up for the team with that bad knee, what excuse do I have to not go out there and play for him and the whole team?' So I looked up to him, and he's one of my boys. Those are probably two of the best players I played with.
"Also you could throw in Joe Holland. I learned a lot from Joe Holland. He was somebody I looked up to and really taught me a lot about football. We had kind of the same skillset in terms of being undersized and athletic, fast linebackers. I always looked up to him like if Joe can do this, than I can do this, too. He just taught me a lot about football. So those are some of the top players."
Gold and Black: If you had to pick a breakout player for next year's team on defense, who would you pick?
Ezenwa: "On defense? Let's see. Two people come to mind for me. I really like the play of Frankie Williams, just the way he came in as a redshirt freshman and this is somebody who could have played as a freshman and I really didn't see it until coming into this season, but he is a guy with a really high football IQ. He loves football; he is passionate about football. When he is at practice and lines up against a receiver, he lets him know that he isn't getting open. He seriously enjoys playing football. He's a great energy guy to be around; you can tell he loves the game and I just feel like he has so much potential and the sky is the limit. Playing as a redshirt freshman last year, he still has three years left. Now that I feel like he is going into his second year playing and he has experience playing, I feel like he is going to be a big-time contributor.
"Another guy I have is Joe Gilliam. That's somebody I kind of grew up with the last couple years at Purdue. I've seen his game drastically improve every year and for him to come into that middle linebacker role, just thrown in there this season and for him to develop into the leader of the defense and getting everybody lined up. And I've seen him get more comfortable and going into his second year starting at middle linebacker, I think that he will take his game to another level. So I look forward to seeing how he continues to grow and develop."
Gold and Black: What do you think about offense? Do you see any guys on the other side of the field that are ready to break out next year?
Ezenwa: "I have two in mind. The first one would be Dolapo Macarthy. Me and him were pretty close locker-mates and so we would talk all the time and the way he carries himself and when we have our conversations he is really passionate about continuing to grow at the position and I've seen him make some spectacular catches in practice and even in the games I've seen him do things and people forget he hasn't been playing receiver that long and he was only a redshirt freshman, so I feel like, I told him 'The sky is the limit for you.' He's a big receiver that can run and loves to study and get better so I just told him to work hard and take his game to another level.
"Another person I'm excited to see is Gabe Holmes. I've always told people
when he puts on those pads on the field, he looks like the best athlete on the field. He looks like an NFL-caliber player when he is on the field. So I told him 'You just need to continue to work on your game, be patient, don't worry about the injuries, I've been there. Just continue to perfect your game and you'll do big things.' So those are people I'm really excited to see play this year."
Gold and Black: If you had one vote for team captain for next year, whom would you vote for?
Ezenwa: "I would probably say Ricardo Allen. With him being a senior and just the things he has done in his career. He has had a great career so far, and it is funny to think that he is just now going to be a senior and he has played so well and I just feel like with him being what I think is the face of Purdue football right now and just seeing his work ethic. When he's on the field he works hard; when he's in the weight room he works hard. He's determined to be the best at his position and he wants to be the best corner in the nation, be the best corner in the conference. To see it in the way he carries himself and the way he works on the field, I respect that about him. I feel like, with him coming back on the defensive side of the football, being a team captain on defense and being a captain of the team so I'm looking forward to seeing how he plays this year."
Gold and Black: What's next for you? Have you graduated?
Ezenwa: "Yes, I graduated."
Gold and Black: Are you still around town or do you have a job? What are you up to?
Ezenwa: "I'm at home right now. I've been training and working out and seeing if I can get a chance, so we'll see how that goes. I'm going to give pro day a chance and then go from there. If football happens to work out, that'd be great, but if not, I'm just looking forward to starting that next chapter in my life and get a good job and find somewhere nice to live."
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