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Chinedum Ndukwe: Ndukwe’s all right talking about his best friend

Ken Fowler | Friday, November 17, 2006

Many of the questions Chinedum Ndukwe fields center on his relationship with quarterback Brady Quinn. But Irish coach Charlie Weis directed a fair share of focus toward the 6-foot-2 safety’s size last spring.

Sophomore safety Ray Herring played his way up the depth chart in March and April, and Ndukwe’s job security became an issue.

“It was known throughout everybody that a couple of younger guys were doing well,” Ndukwe said. “You can’t really let that worry you. You always have to improve yourself as an individual first to help the overall team.”

If Herring’s play didn’t worry Ndukwe, Weis lit a fire under the receiver-turned-safety, who tipped the scales at nearly 235 pounds.

“Coach set a challenge in front of me,” Nduwke said. “He’s like, ‘I want you to lose 20 pounds.’ But I was still pretty cut up. I was like, ‘From where?’ … He basically said if I didn’t do that, I wasn’t going to play.”

Ndukwe said Weis’ statement hit home because the safety respected the coach’s thorough understanding of personnel adjustments. But Ndukwe isn’t so sure that Weis wasn’t just using a mental ploy to improve the defensive back’s play.

“Everything the coaches do is for a reason,” Ndukwe said. “Coach Weis, for instance, is really into the psychology behind sports. I’m not sure – who knows – but he could have just done that to set a fire in me.”

And Ndukwe would know. The business major with a concentration in consulting has a dual major in psychology.

“That stuff definitely sparks my interest in a lot of ways,” he said. “People do a lot of things for different reasons.”

Ndukwe came to the school after his brother Kelechi graduated from Notre Dame and his sister graduated from Saint Mary’s. But he came with more than just a family legacy.

The person Ndukwe is closest with at Notre Dame was Quinn. He was Quinn’s No. 1 target at Dublin Coffman High School in Ohio, catching 150 passes for 2,174 yards and 24 touchdowns during their high school days.

As they entered Notre Dame together, their friendship helped Ndukwe adjust to the new college setting.

“When you’re going to school a lot of times you might not know anyone,” Nduwke said. “First day of school, you’re actually driving with a person. … You’re actually coming with somebody, coming with your best friend.”

Ndukwe said their friendship has only grown through the past four years. Calling Quinn “a brother” to him, Ndukwe said he never minds answering questions about his high-profile pal.

“When you love someone, when you care about someone – you can talk about them forever,” Ndukwe said. “There’s always things I can talk about Brady because he’s close to my heart. He’s been like a brother to me.”

And that applies both in media sessions and while the two are together away from the football team.

“I’m usually with Brady a lot off campus, so [people] usually just assume I’m ‘Ndukwe’,” the safety said. “So I just roll with the flow.”

As the high school friends’ relationship has thrived at Notre Dame, so have Ndukwe’s relationships with his teammates. Ndukwe started at safety as a junior, after switching from wide receiver in his sophomore season.

While that may have been a difficult adjustment, Ndukwe said, everyone has their troubles at times – and those similar experiences create bonds.

“Every person’s situation is different,” Ndukwe said. “Even though they’re on the same team as you, they all have certain adversities. They all have ups, they all have downs, and it does bring you closer together, because that’s what a team is all about.”

Ndukwe’s senior season has been his best, and his 22 tackles against Air Force were 14 more than his career high entering the 2006 season.

“Throughout the past couple years, it’s been a roller coaster ride of emotions,” he said. “The success of this team is beyond imagination. Having a great time, it’s been worth everything we’ve gone through.”