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Ndukwe thriving as the starting free safety

Mike Gilloon | Friday, September 23, 2005

Chinedum Ndukwe has been attending Irish football games for a while. His older brother was a student at Notre Dame when he was in the eighth grade. But his parents didn’t get too excited about football, so they would let Ndukwe and a friend use their tickets and come up for a game.

The Notre Dame free safety had no clue that just a few years later he and his friend, current Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, would both be starters for the very team they used to watch as kids.

“In eighth grade we used to come up, it was random, we weren’t being recruited or anything,” Ndukwe said. “We used to party at Turtle Creek after the games. It was fun. We always had a good time.”

Ndukwe credits those experiences with Quinn and his older brother as a big reason he ended up coming to Notre Dame.

“When it came time to make the decision [about what college to attend] it was a lot easier,” Ndukwe said. “I was always comfortable here, and I still knew a lot of people that I met coming up. It was a really easy decision.”

That comfort level is visible on the field this season as Ndukwe has established himself as a standout on a surprisingly stiff Irish defense. He has three fumble recoveries, one interception and 12 tackles through three games.

These are impressive statistics for a player in his first year as a starter. But Ndukwe believes his return of 14 yards after an interception against Michigan State last week wasn’t good enough for someone who caught 150 passes for 2,174 yards and 24 touchdowns as Quinn’s favorite target at Dublin Coffman High School in Ohio.

“I felt like I [was on offense] but I didn’t look like it,” Ndukwe said. “It was nice to actually get out there and make a big play, but I should have taken it back for a touchdown. Hopefully this week it will happen.”

Ndukwe and his secondary teammates – strong safety Tom Zbikowski and cornerbacks Ambrose Wooden and Mike Richardson – present a challenge to the Washington offense this week as they have developed a knack for making the big play. Richardson recorded a sack against the Spartans, Zbikowski has two interceptions, a forced fumble and 24 tackles while Wooden leads the team with three pass break-ups.

Ndukwe credits the strong bond he shares with his teammates off the field as the reason behind their solid play this season.

“We’re always together,” Ndukwe said. “Even if we go out at night after a game, we always end up meeting up with each other. Being the guys we are, we’re always having fun together.”

The bond is comparable to the feeling Ndukwe shared with Quinn when they starred together in high school.

“In high school, it was just me and him, and everybody in the world knew it was going to happen,” Ndukwe said. “I’m just finally excited to get out there and play and hopefully someday be as big an impact player as [Quinn] has been here. I just want to make plays and have fun.”