Tuesday, September 25, 2018 Medina 71°
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Sports

Kudla waiting for next step

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By BRAD BOURNIVAL

Staff Writer

COLUMBUS — Mike Kudla’s dreams aren’t over, they’re just put on hold for the time being.

The 2001 Division II Co-Defensive Player of the Year for Highland and 2005 first-team All-Big Ten selection at Ohio State hasn’t given up on his aspirations of playing in the NFL.

He’s just down in Columbus wrapping up a degree in finance and anticipating graduation day on June 8 before he takes that next step.

“That’s always there,” Kudla said from his apartment in Columbus. “I still work out with the guys every day. That’s where I’m headed after this. Every day, three hours a day, switching up things.

“I still have lots of interest, but I’m putting everything off until I graduate. I’m looking forward to keeping that promise.”

The one thing that hasn’t changed for the former 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end for the Bucks is his drive.

Undrafted in 2006, Kudla immediately signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent, but was waived after tweaking a hamstring just two hours into the team’s first practice.

The hammy kept bugging Kudla and he spent more time in rehab than he did on the football field. He’s torn the hamstring three times, but has never given up.

Neither have NFL franchises. While tryouts with some haven’t yielded  results because of questions about the hamstring, “Koods” is back at 100 percent for the first time in a long time and is ready to give it a go.

There are still plenty of NFL and Arena Football League squads that have expressed interest as well as those in the Canadian Football League and newly formed All-American Football League.

Kudla, 24, sees the interest but has decided — with some advice from Tressel among others — to finish his degree and then worry about the next step.

He’s switched agents to the BTI Sports Advisors out of Chicago and watched as teams have vied for his services. Once thought of as a hybrid for the NFL game, Kudla has bulked back up and put on 20 pounds to get back to his playing weight of 265.

“It’s tough, you think you come out and have all the skills and it’s my body holding me up,” Kudla said. “I don’t think in any way, shape or form I’m done. I’m 24. I’m not even in the prime of my career yet.

“It was hard going through everything. I tore my hamstring three times and each time it kept getting harder and harder to bounce back.

“It’s tough being in that situation, but now getting some time back and being around the (current players at Ohio State), my drive is as strong as ever.”

It’s not just his football family that has gotten him through his ongoing fight to get back on the gridiron.

In fact, the 2002 Highland graduate, who played on Ohio State’s national championship team, draws most of his inspiration from the very people he grew up with in Medina County.

“I’ve gotten a lot of personal support from my friends, my family and the community,” Kudla said. “It’s everyone coming up and saying not to give up and keep trying.

“My girlfriend, Jaclyn, my friends and my family, they’re riding the roller coaster with me to keep me going. They say they can’t wait to see me and that’s a huge factor to getting back out there and making them proud.”

So for now, the 2001 Gazette MVP will bide his time, work out with the boys at the Woody Hayes Center and dream of the big picture.

It’s a picture he’s already waited two years to paint, so applying the final brush strokes over the next seven weeks won’t be that excruciating to an artist who has already anguished over what the finished piece will look like.

“That fire never goes out,” Kudla said. “No matter where it is, I can’t wait to get out on the field again and do what I love to do. I’m just going by what my agents think and what my coaches think.

“We talk things over. The best thing would be to get back out there and get into a (NFL) camp and get an opportunity. Now I’m healthy with a degree and a lot of football knowledge. The best I could do is go out there and be happy.”

Bournival may be reached at bournival929@sbcglobal.net or 330-721-4045.



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