The nerve damage in his feet ended his NFL career.
But former Vikings first-round pick Kenechi Udeze won’t complain about it, because that damage was a result of the chemotherapy during his treatment for leukemia.
Udeze is healthy and back in Minnesota now as a coaching intern, and grateful for the chance.
“I feel great,” Udeze said, via Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. “The only thing I’ve got to worry about is my feet giving me and issue, and that’s it. So, I really lucked out throughout the whole thing.
Udeze is coming up on the five-year anniversary of the bone marrow transplant which helped save him, and said after a few stints working at the University of Washington and with the Seahawks, he’s found a new calling that replaces playing.
“Coaching is a passion of mine and something that I definitely want to do for a very long time,” Udeze said.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was Udeze’s defensive coordinator during his playing days, and remembers visiting him in the hospital and wondering how long he’d have.
“Every time I see him, I’m just amazed,” Frazier said. “It’s almost like seeing a walking miracle, because at that time, when I was visiting him in the hospital, it was a concern about whether or not he survived much longer.
“To see him today, healthy, moving around real well, communicating, talking — it’s an inspiration. If you were someone that may be facing adversity, going through a tough time, you look at a guy like Udeze and you say, ‘You know what? There’s hope.’ He never gave up. He continued to battle, and it’s great to have him around.”
The 30-year-old Udeze benefitted from finding a marrow match in his brother, and though his attempt at a comeback was derailed by the side effects of the disease, he hopes to continue to share his message.
“It put things into perspective, but more importantly, it opened my eyes to a lot of things,” Udeze said. “Not saying football was never important. It always and forever will be my passion and something that I’ll never lose sight of. But coming up on my five-year anniversary here in July, I have a lot to be thankful for.
“I hear all these stories about other people having to endure for years and years. I went through it for six months, and I was just fortunate enough that my physical health and the state that I went in helped me so much with the recovery. To say that I only suffer from nerve damage, that’s a blessing, it’s really a blessing.”
And that kind of outlook needs to be shared with young players, beyond anything he might tell them about playing the defensive line.