By BRAD BOURNIVAL
COLUMBUS â€” Mike Kudlaâ€™s dreams arenâ€™t over, theyâ€™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 hasnâ€™t given up on his aspirations of playing in the NFL.
Heâ€™s just down in Columbus wrapping up a degree in finance and anticipating graduation day on June 8 before he takes that next step.
â€œThatâ€™s always there,â€ Kudla said from his apartment in Columbus. â€œI still work out with the guys every day. Thatâ€™s where Iâ€™m headed after this. Every day, three hours a day, switching up things.
â€œI still have lots of interest, but Iâ€™m putting everything off until I graduate. Iâ€™m looking forward to keeping that promise.â€
The one thing that hasnâ€™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 teamâ€™s first practice.
The hammy kept bugging Kudla and he spent more time in rehab than he did on the football field. Heâ€™s torn the hamstring three times, but has never given up.
Neither have NFL franchises. While tryouts with some havenâ€™t yieldedÂ results because of questions about the hamstring, â€œKoodsâ€ 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 â€” with some advice from Tressel among others â€” to finish his degree and then worry about the next step.
Heâ€™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.
â€œItâ€™s tough, you think you come out and have all the skills and itâ€™s my body holding me up,â€ Kudla said. â€œI donâ€™t think in any way, shape or form Iâ€™m done. Iâ€™m 24. Iâ€™m not even in the prime of my career yet.
â€œIt was hard going through everything. I tore my hamstring three times and each time it kept getting harder and harder to bounce back.
â€œItâ€™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.â€
Itâ€™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 Stateâ€™s national championship team, draws most of his inspiration from the very people he grew up with in Medina County.
â€œIâ€™ve gotten a lot of personal support from my friends, my family and the community,â€ Kudla said. â€œItâ€™s everyone coming up and saying not to give up and keep trying.
â€œMy girlfriend, Jaclyn, my friends and my family, theyâ€™re riding the roller coaster with me to keep me going. They say they canâ€™t wait to see me and thatâ€™s a huge factor to getting back out there and making them proud.â€
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.
Itâ€™s a picture heâ€™s already waited two years to paint, so applying the final brush strokes over the next seven weeks wonâ€™t be that excruciating to an artist who has already anguished over what the finished piece will look like.
â€œThat fire never goes out,â€ Kudla said. â€œNo matter where it is, I canâ€™t wait to get out on the field again and do what I love to do. Iâ€™m just going by what my agents think and what my coaches think.
â€œWe talk things over. The best thing would be to get back out there and get into a (NFL) camp and get an opportunity. Now Iâ€™m healthy with a degree and a lot of football knowledge. The best I could do is go out there and be happy.â€
Bournival may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4045.