April 6, 2004

by Katie Stuhldreher

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – If you were to walk by the Notre Dame practice fields in early April, you would smell freshly cut grass, hear the familiar clicking of cleats on the concrete, taste the impending victory, and see the stars of next season emerging. Sophomore defensive back Chinedum Ndukwe, one of only six true freshmen to see action and earn a monogram last season, is one potential emerging star as he is proving in spring practice that he can make plays on both sides of the ball.

Ndukwe was recruited to play for Notre Dame from Coffman High School in Dublin, Ohio, hailing from the same school as rising junior men’s basketball player Chris Quinn and soon-to-be sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn. Ndukwe completed his final prep season with 48 catches for 659 yards and 10 touchdowns, breaking the school record for career receiving yardage (2,174), most yards in a season (838), most receptions in a game (12), most receiving yards in a game (212), career receptions (150), and most catches in a season (59).

These impressive statistics presented many recruiting options for Ndukwe, but Notre Dame was a clear choice for him.

“Notre Dame was the place where I felt most comfortable and at home when I made all of my college visits,” he said. “My brother, Kelechi went here and I used to visit him a lot. Plus, it’s always nice to know guys here that I grew up with like Brady and Chris.”

In Ndukwe’s first season, he made several appearances at wide receiver and special teams for the Irish, compiling three catches for 14 yards.

“I was really excited to have the opportunity to get on the field this past year,” he said. “Next season I won’t have to come out with that sudden shock of playing on the field. But I can still do a lot better.”

Several weeks before spring training, Ndukwe was moved to defensive back and has been working on mastering this new position.

“Playing defensive back entails a different mindset, but with the same goals as receiver,” he noted. “I always want the ball in my hands. Now I just need to get it another way: by picking off a pass, rather than by receiving it. Right now, I’m trying to get that fight from within and I’m continually working to improve.”

Although Ndukwe loves playing wide receiver, he expressed that he is willing to play anywhere that will enable him to get on the field and make plays.

“I just want to contribute to the team wherever I’m needed to help us win,” he said. “Right now I’m working hardest at making tackles and staying balanced. It’s not the same as being a silky-smooth receiver,” he added with a grin.

Ndukwe explained that the biggest challenge for the Irish defense as a whole next season will be learning to come together to play as one.

“We have the potential to be a great defense and so far this spring, we are doing just that,” he commented. “Everyone is excited and gearing up for that first game against Michigan in September.”

Accordingly, Ndukwe summed up the experience of being a part of the Notre Dame football tradition in one word: pride.

“It’s hard to find one person on this team who doesn’t deep down love Notre Dame,” he said. “We appreciate the fan support and love knowing that we are in the Mecca of college football.”

Indeed many fans will make the pilgrimage to the Golden Dome this fall to experience the pride and enthusiasm that Ndukwe and the rest of the 2004 Irish football team carry with them.

— ND —