How Ikenna Enechukwu brought the NFL to him
Growing up in South Kansas City, Ikenna Enechukwu was immersed in football from his television rather than any notable youth program near him. Early 2000s football, specifically the Chiefs with defensive dominators like Tamba Hali, is where he discovered his passion.
He attended Ruskin High School, a school with a poor history of winning football for the last two decades. Despite the circumstances, Enechukwu’s foundation was built by consistent dedication towards his coaching staff and developing his imposing build. Throughout his four years at Ruskin, Enechukwu earned an early varsity spot, less because the roster was lacking the necessary amount of players, but more so due to his potential to lead on and off the field.
Overcoming an abysmal team record—Enechukwu’s promising football abilities, superb grades, and commitment toward his future—Rice University granted him a full-ride scholarship and a position on the defensive line. He would spend five years in the program while completing his bachelor’s in kinesiology, earning an honors award in his final year. He credits his time at Rice as his first deep dive within a disciplined and committed culture, a standard he says translates into wins.
Since graduating, Enechukwu has been preparing for his future in the NFL, the eventual draft in his hometown, and maintaining a focused mind.
The Pitch: How did Ruskin High School and growing up in South Kansas City shape the attitude you bring to the field?
Ikenna Enechukwu: It definitely made me tough. It taught me not to give in to anger and instead use my emotion toward my passion. Other schools didn’t respect us, and the few times we did prove them wrong, the work we put in finally felt worth it.
Plenty of talented athletes begin their careers at Ruskin, and you’ll definitely be seen as a role model for the youth.
Oh, for sure, Ruskin has never lacked talent. Look at our track and field numbers. On an individual level, athletes from here are incredible. Football is called the ultimate team sport, and it’s been a slow process getting the program where it needs to be.
Leaving Ruskin to attend Rice, what adjustments did you make at the collegiate level to navigate the contrast between both programs?
It was a bit of a culture shock, but I welcomed it. Having rosters drop from 50 to under 20 players in high school was discouraging, but at Rice, I was surrounded by equally committed players, and I could fit into my role a lot more comfortably. Structure, obligations, and winning are what we focused on at Rice. Each player had a purpose, and we treated it as our duty.
What did Rice provide you with academically? Was it challenging to balance your education with athletic ambitions?
It was definitely challenging, but that is how it’s supposed to be. A top 15 institution like Rice isn’t easy to get into, and the workload after admission reflects that. I just applied the work ethic my family taught me towards my day-to-day, on and off the field, and it all worked out in my favor. In my final year, I left Rice with a Scholars-Athlete Award and made some of my best plays.
What did you study?
I majored in kinesiology with a minor in entrepreneurship and started the Master of Business Administration program last summer.
It seems picture-perfect for the draft to have been held here in Kansas City this year.
I definitely feel that as well. After meeting with just about every team, it’s cool to have them here in my city. It really reinforces what I’m feeling. I’m able to get my name out more. It feels big.
What excites you most about a future in the NFL?
I’m excited about winning. From high school to college, I’ve been winning more and more, and I love it. The opportunity to win—and to win a Super Bowl—that’s what is important to me.
You seem ready and prepared for whatever the NFL has for you. If you had a chance at any NFL star you watched growing up, who do you wish you could tackle the most?
Tom Brady, for sure.
Days after the interview, the draft concluded on Saturday, April 29. While undrafted in a stacked 2023 class, Ikenna Enechukwu was called by the Atlanta Falcons to be selected as part of their defensive line. Chiefs fans will have no conflicts supporting the local stud as he begins his NFL career on the NFC side of the league.