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From Kenya to South Bend, kicker finds a way

Kit Loughran | Thursday, November 21, 2013

Finding your way to South Bend from the highlands of Kenya may not seem like the typical path of a Notre Dame football player. 

But for Irish senior kicker and punter Jude Rhodes that is exactly how the trip went. 

“It was always my intention to come to Notre Dame and I got in as a transfer,” Rhodes said. “It was my intention to walk on the team from the time that I came here. I had the opportunity to do so, and here I am.” 

Rhodes lived in Kapsowar, Kenya, a small town in the Rift Valley Province, where his father worked in a small Christian hospital and his mother worked in a local orphanage in a nearby village. 

And though it may sound surprising having lived in Kenya, it was Rhodes’ dream from day one to attend Notre Dame and don the blue-and-gold uniform.  

Rhodes transferred to Notre Dame from Arkansas Little Rock after his freshman year. Before he made his way to Arkansas, Rhodes played football for two seasons at Nordhoff High School in Ojai, Calif. But, Rhodes’ career actually began in Kenya with a makeshift goal post.

“My older brother played football before we moved to Kenya, and growing up I always wanted to be like my older brother, so he built, or welded, me a set of goal posts when I was eleven years old, and I just started place kicking in Kenya,” Rhodes said. 

Football wasn’t the only thing Rhodes picked up in Kenya. He also grew out his hair into dreadlocks. For Rhodes, there’s a significant meaning behind his choice in hairstyle.  

“In a lot of African cultures, it’s common when a male leaves home that he grows his hair out and into dreadlocks, especially when he travels for conflict and then people can recognize how deep he is in the movement based on how long his hair is,” Rhodes said. “So, I just decided when I was a junior in high school and decided to start pursuing college football that I was going to grow my hair out into dreadlocks, and I’ve just kept it.”

Another Kenyan custom Rhodes brought to South Bend? Walking. In fact, the first time Rhodes arrived in South Bend, he walked from the South Bend Airport to campus. 

“When I come back to campus, I normally walk from the South Bend Airport just because I don’t mind walking, I don’t want to pay for a cab, and I don’t want to bother people to come pick me up,” Rhodes said.  “And where I come from all we do is walk. We don’t have very much motorized transportation, so I just grew up walking everywhere.” 

Even though Rhodes integrated some of the aspects from home with his life, there’s a definite difference between the two lifestyles, he said.

“It’s a different world than I grew up in, and I’m very fortunate to be here,” Rhodes said. “Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, is a really special place to go to school, and I’m very thankful for it.”

His experience on the football team and the bonds he made with his teammates only add to the gratitude Rhodes has for the opportunity to attend Notre Dame.

“The unity that we have on the team is really special, especially as walk-ons and specialists too,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes specifically mentioned the friendships he has formed with junior safety Ernie (EJ) Soto, sophomore long-snappers Hunter Smith and Scott Daly, graduate student kicker Nick Tausch and junior kicker and punter Kyle Brindza.

Rhodes and the other kickers come together to create a tight-knit and independent dynamic of the team. 

“As kickers we are really supportive of each other and we spend a lot of time together,” Rhodes said. “We don’t have coaching supervision during practice, so we rely on each other to keep each other honest, help each other with our kicking and stay disciplined together.” 

The History Pre-Professional major is taking in his last moments as a senior not only on the field with the team, but also on campus, especially within his dorm, Keough Hall, in which Rhodes takes great pride. 

“1A of Keough is the best section and we refer to ourselves as the ‘Beast Chiefs,'” Rhodes said.  “We have what is considered to be the strongest section identity on campus.

“I coach the Keough interhall basketball team and run other dorm events, and we all stay really close together.” 

With Rhodes’ dorm life and football and academic careers at Notre Dame coming to an end, Rhodes said he knows he will always be able to return to Notre Dame and rely on what is most special to him from his Notre Dame experience. 

“The spiritual dynamic is really special to me,” Rhodes said. “There’s a real presence you can feel here that is not everywhere. 

That’s always something nice to come back to.”

Contact Kit Loughran [email protected]