Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who underwent a bone marrow transplant in July after having acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) diagnosed last February, said today that his recovery is going well and that he plans to be back with the team for offseason workouts and practices.
Udeze did not play this past season but said he began working out at his alma mater, Southern Cal, about three weeks ago. His weight has gone from a high of 320 pounds back down to between 265 and 270 pounds.
“My goal is when the team gets back together, I’ll be in my jersey and on the sideline with them,” Udeze said in reference to the Vikings offseason program that starts in early April. “If I didn’t feel [positive about] it, I woudn’t be saying it. If something drastic happens, then that is that, but I can bounce back from this.”
Udeze said that his appearance and features have changed enough that teammate Ben Leber did not even recongize him late in the regular season when they saw each other in the weight room at Winter Park. “He did a double-take, that’s how I knew he didn’t know who I was,” Udeze said. “It’s just more or less the chemo finally running its course and getting out of my body.”
Udeze left the warmth of Los Angeles to come to the Twin Cities in part to have his six-month biopsy on Tuesday at the University of Minnesota Hospitals. “It’s been nothing but good news [so far], so let’s hope for the best,” he said.
Udeze also was in the Twin Cities to speak at an event at Chaska Middle School West that involved the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s ”Pennies for Patients” program, a community service project where students donate their spare change to fund blood cancer research and patient aid programs. The school raised just over $30,000 last year, the best of any middle school in the country.
Udeze spoke to reporters after the event in Chaska. His wife, Terrica, and 14-month old daughter, Bailey, also were with him. Udeze was the third of three speakers and had to take a moment to compose himself after listening to Krista Johnson talk of how she lost her young daugther, McKenna, to lymphoma in November 2007.
In speaking to reporters, Udeze went out of his way to give thanks to Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, coach Brad Childress and others in the organization for how they supported him. The Vikings placed Udeze on the reserve-non-football-illness list last spring, meaning he was guaranteed his $807,500 salary for 2008 despite the fact he wasn’t eligible to play. Under NFL rules, Udeze’s contract tolled for 2008, meaning the final season of his deal now will be 2009.
Udeze also is taking classes in an effort to complete his education at Southern Cal and said he will graduate with a degree in Sociology after finishing up four classes this semester.