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INDIANAPOLIS — Enyi Uwazurike remembers waking up a couple years ago, looking at his phone and seeing “like 30 phone calls” from his brother.
“I just knew something was wrong,” Uwazurike said Friday at the NFL Combine.
Uwazurike was a redshirt junior at Iowa State at the time, having just lost to Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl. He was about to learn of a loss with pain far deeper than anything in football.
His father died in his sleep.
“He means everything,” Uwazurike said. “He’s my best friend.”
Now as Uwazurike prepares for the NFL Draft, he’s keeping his late father close to his heart. While sitting at a table in a convention center ballroom, he wore a piece of jewelry around his neck that said “R.I.P. Dad” with a photo of a young Enyi and his father.
“I wear this around because it’s like everywhere I go, he’s with me,” Uwazurike said.
His father’s sudden death is just one example of the adversity the 6-foot-6 defensive lineman has experienced on his way to being one of six former Iowa State players to appear at the combine this week.
Uwazurike faced challenges growing up, both academically and athletically.
“Coming out of high school, I really didn’t have much resources,” Uwazurike said. “When I got to Iowa State, it was a game-changer.”
Uwazurike went from being academically ineligible in his first year to now pursuing a master’s degree — an accomplishment the defensive lineman takes plenty of pride in.
“I've struggled in school my whole entire life,” Uwazurike said. “Coming into Iowa State, I was nervous like, ‘Man, how am I going to make it through school here?’ … First in my family to graduate, so I really look at school as a huge achievement for me.”
He saw quite the athletic progression as well since arriving at Iowa State in 2016. The recruit who was the 69th-best defensive end in ESPN’s rankings went on to earn first-team all-Big 12 honors from coaches in 2021.
The defensive lineman also bulked up from 250 pounds as a freshman to now 316 pounds.
Iowa State defensive line coach Eli Rasheed raved about Uwazurike’s off-the-field development before the start of the 2021 season.
“He’s had so much growth in life and in being a leader and doing the right things off of the field,” Rasheed said in August. “For him to graduate and then to start working on his master’s is incredible. There’s nothing like that. As a coach, you love that.”
Uwazurike committed to Toledo when now-Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell was there. When Campbell moved to Iowa State after the 2015 season, so did Uwazurike.
“Coach Campbell won over my family early,” Uwazurike said. “He was the first person to offer me, and I told myself, ‘The first person that was going to offer me, that’s where I was going to go.’”
Uwazurike didn’t have the benefit of a bigger-name high school that has extensive relationships with college coaches when going through his recruitment. Michigan and Michigan State didn’t take an interest in him.
“There’s always a chip like that on my shoulder,” Uwazurike said. “I would’ve loved to play for a school in Michigan, but the reality of it didn’t go how it was planned.”
Now, he’s on the national stage, with his father close to him and a chance to display what many coaches didn’t see earlier.
“I just can’t wait to show exactly what I’m capable of,” Uwazurike said.
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