NFL.com's "Why I Play" series provides a thoughtful peek into the minds of the next generation of NFL players to better understand what drives them to make it in the league. Other prospects included in this series: TCU DT Ross Blacklock, Auburn DT Derrick Brown, LSU CB Kristian Fulton, TCU CB Jeff Gladney, Florida edge Jonathan Greenard, USC OT Austin Jackson, Utah CB Jaylon Johnson, Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor and Minnesota S Antoine Winfield Jr. This edition's featured prospect is ...
Prospect bio: Uche played four seasons at Michigan, with his breakout campaign coming in his junior year, when he racked up a team-high seven sacks to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. In nine starts (13 games played) as a senior, Uche again led the Wolverines with 8.5 sacks and added 35 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss (also a team best), two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He earned second-team all-conference honors from the coaches with that performance.
This interview, conducted via phone call on April 3, was condensed and edited for clarity.
How I started
My family is big into soccer and basketball, so I remember going out of my way to ask my parents to play football when I was in elementary school. When I was little, I remember watching guys like Clinton Portis, Reggie Bush, Willis McGahee and Sean Taylor. The college bowl games would be on during the holidays, and I wanted to be like them, especially Taylor. He's from Miami, too, and I just loved the way he played the game. He was physical and was commanding when he was on the field. He could do everything. I was pretty young when he died, but I remember seeing Sean Taylor everywhere around Miami. The impact he had on the community and football world was big.
My biggest motivation is to fulfill my destiny and purpose in life and go wherever God takes me. One of my biggest goals outside of football is to create a foundation on mental health. However much you want to downplay it, everyone has had some sort of mental health battle. It may not be extreme, but it's still there. There's the perception that, as you get older, your feelings become less important -- and I think that includes a lot of football players. We are emotional, too, and should be able to express it.
I was injured my sophomore year in college, and I felt extremely lonely. It was a terrible feeling and I felt like I had no one to talk to. But when I really thought about it, there are people who are a lot worse off. There are so many kids who have very little, don't have outlets to express themselves and go down the wrong path. I want to start a foundation for inner-city minorities that teaches them how to deal with issues and provide healthy coping methods.
Overcoming my greatest challenge
The most recent challenge was during my time at Michigan when I wasn't playing as much as I imagined. But with a lot of prayer and faith, I stayed with it, didn't transfer and got to where I wanted with the help of some people. I don't think I could've gotten through that time without my teammates, Khaleke Hudson and Chris Evans. I did everything with them, and they'd always tell me to be patient and talked me up to everyone when I was a nobody.
My strength coach at Michigan, Ben Herbert, is also someone I hold in high regard. My career didn't start out the way I had envisioned it. I didn't play a lot, I didn't weigh a lot, but when he got there, he pushed me to another level that I didn't know I had. In everything -- on the football field and in my personal life. He always gives me a clear, concise opinion, and I trust that opinion very much. He helped me turn the corner when he saw me not living up to my potential.
A positive influence on me
I don't think Don Brown, defensive coordinator at Michigan, knows how much he's changed my life. I was predominantly a defensive end, and he converted me into a versatile linebacker. He was really hard on me and constantly making sure I was doing the most, but he turned me into the player I am. I don't think there are enough thank-yous in the world that could convey how thankful I am for what he did for me.