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Emeka Nwankwo: Waiting only yields benefits for Florida native

Jack Hefferon | Thursday, November 11, 2010

“Good things come to those who wait” may be an overused cliché, but overused clichés are often overused for a reason: they are true.

Senior defensive end Emeka Nwankwo can certainly argue for the validity of that phrase, after waiting in the wings several times in his career before stepping into the spotlight, with success.

Nwankwo was a four-star recruit out of Miami Beach, Fla., who was named all-state twice at offensive line at Chaminade-Madonna Prep. But when it came time to commit to a college, he faced a difficult decision.

“At the end of the whole process, it was either going to be Notre Dame or Florida,” Nwankwo said. “I felt that I needed to get out of Florida, so I thought Notre Dame was my best option.”

Once he arrived on campus, Nwankwo had to accept several important changes in his life. While he transitioned from life at home to more independence on campus, he also had to transition from offensive line to defensive tackle on the football field.

“Going away from home for the first time and being on your own was different, almost surreal. It was a lot of fun though, too,” Nwankwo said. “As far as football goes, the transition to defense wasn’t too difficult. I played defensive line in high school, so I was able to step right in day one.”

He was also helped in this transition by some older players with whom he developed a close relationship early in his Notre Dame career.

“Older guys like [defensive lineman] Trevor Laws, [linebacker] Maurice Crum, and [tight end] John Carlson really showed me the way things were done, and how to go about your business,” Nwankwo said.

After mostly working with the scout team and slowly climbing the depth chart in his freshman year, Nwankwo was able to bust into the gameday rotation his sophomore year.

“It was nice to start to get noticed, and the coaches start to get at you a bit more,” he said.

That year was Nwankwo’s breakout year of sorts, as he played in seven games, and had two tackles. More promising, though was that he saw action in five of the final six games, and his stock seemed to be rising. But during his junior season last year, Nwankwo seemed to get lost in the depth chart, and did not play a snap during the season. Once again, Nwankwo was forced to lie in wait, and the experience was frustrating.

“That was by far my worst year here,” Nwankwo said.

Nwankwo persevered, though, and now is playing the biggest role of his career in what has become a redemptive season for him.

“This year has been my best year here. I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Nwankwo, who has played in five games and has three tackles on the season.

Part of the reason that this year has been so enjoyable for him is all of the fun he has off the field, especially with his friends on the team, Nwankwo said.

“A lot of the guys on the team are really close … [Senior running back] Armando Allen, he’s my little brother,” Nwankwo said. “And [junior nose tackle] Brandon Newman, he’s the clown of the whole team. No doubt I’ll be friends with those guys for life.”

Nwankwo and his teammates are always up for some friendly competition, as well.

“I’m the current Notre Dame Madden king, I’m pretty much unstoppable,” he said. “I’ve got the best car on campus, too.”

Now that his senior year is coming to a close, Nwankwo has begun to look back and reflect on his time here.

“I’ll take a lot from these four years: family, brotherhood, and some good memories. Now that I think about it, I’m really going to miss this place.”

But while it may seem to be the end of Nwankwo’s Notre Dame career, he has not yet ruled out returning for a fifth season of eligibility.

“I might come back next season, but there’s a whole lot of other options,” he said. “It’s really up in the air right now.”

Regardless of his plans for next year, Nwankwo will graduate this spring with a degree in Psychology, although he has plans in a different field.

“My family has been really supportive, but football doesn’t mean that much to my parents, since they grew up in Nigeria. To them, the most important thing is getting that degree, and I got it,” he said. “I really want to go back for grad school, though, and get my MBA. Eventually, I plan to be in the business world.”

Like so many other things for Nwankwo, future success is just a matter of time.