Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is excited about returning home to host a football camp while planning for an NFL breakthrough season.
The free youth camp will be held on Saturday at Grayson High in Loganville.
Nkemdiche, 23, the former number one recruit in the nation and first-round pick of the Cardinals, has a message for the youth and for his NFL doubters.
“Collectively, that’s what it’s about putting in the work so that you’ll have opportunities to use your platform for bigger and better things,” Nkemdiche said. “The opportunities to help other kids live through that and hopefully they can make their dreams come true, too. Just to give hope back to coaches, the kids and society in general.”
Nkemdiche, who’s had some bumps along his path, plans to address those, too. He also has the standard football drills ready for the youth.
“Keys to life,” Nkemdiche said. “I can talk about the future and things that kids can run into. As a kid chasing dreams of a sport, it’s very demanding and takes a lot to live through and make happen. Really, just giving hope to them and really having a really good time doing it. That’s going to be the biggest part.”
After helping to lead Grayson to a state championship, Nkemdiche went on to become an All-SEC player at Mississippi. He had a bumpy path to the draft which featured a 2015 arrest and a shaky scouting combine performance.
He slipped to the 29th pick in the draft. He’s played in 17 games and made 12 tackles over his first two seasons. He played 246 defensive snaps (24.1 percent) last season.
Knemdiche, who’s 6-foot-4 and 296 pounds, is hoping to jump-start his career under the Cardinals’ new coaching staff.
“He’s super focused on having a breakthrough season,” said Thomas Sims, his new agent with the VaynerSports firm.
Steve Wilks is Arizona’s new head coach along with new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb.
"From the little bit of film I've observed and watched, he obviously at times jumps off the tape," Holcomb said to azcentral sports.com after being hired. "He's got some ability. As a coaching staff, we have to try to do the best thing that we can to get the most out of him and continue to develop his talents and get him on the field.”
Longtime NFL assistant Don Johnson is Nkemdiche’s new position coach and they seem to hit it off over the offseason.
“I was extremely excited to have a new coach who not only understands me as a person, but as a player,” Nkemdiche said. “We just connected. There is a lot of mutual respect and it’s going to be a really fun season.”
Arizona defensive tackle Corey Peters, a former Atlanta Falcon (2010-14), is close to Nkemdiche’s. Their lockers are next to one another and they joke around and play gags on each other.
“The thing with Robert is that he has all the talent in the world,” Peters said. “The sky is really the limit for him. It’s just a matter of him putting everything together.
“I think he’s got all the tools to do that. I think he’s done well so far this offseason kind of putting him in position to do that. Now, it’s just about putting it all together and taking that next step forward.”
Nkemdiche acknowledges the slow start to his NFL career.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” Nkemdiche said. “There is no time scale for me. That is part of the profession, the time and effort that you have to invest. It just comes with it. That’s part of the process.
“It’s not like there is no deadline or time, it just happens. I’m just going to stick to it and keep working hard. I’m getting better.”
Nkemdiche recently returned form Hawaii where he spent some time working out with Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks.
Nkemdiche believes he can turn into a force in the trenches.
“That’s what it’s going to be, this year is going to be really, really fun,” Nkemdiche said. “There are going to be a lot of things I’m going to do on the field. This is going to (lead) to a lot of the things I want to do. I’m going to have a good season, really be dominant, effective and disruptive football player in general.
“That’s what it’s going to be. Now, is the right time. I’m healthy. I’m in the right position. Right football team. Right place. Right where I’m supposed to be. Everything will work itself out.”
Nkemdiche has been in the spotlight during his youth and for most of his young adult life.
“One thing, that I’m going to tell the kids,” Nkemdiche said. “Never let people try to marginalize your dream. Don’t ever let anybody try to marginalize what they think somebody when something is supposed to breakthrough for you or come forth for you.
“Just keep sticking to the process and keep your eyes on the prize that you envision. Keep working toward that with every bit of energy that you have and you’ll see results. It’s just a simple concept.”
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