Friday is going to be a wonderful day for UCLA redshirt sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks and his family.
So much happiness and joy ready to burst out as big brother Mychal, Cal’s 2011 Pac-12 defensive player of the year, is expected to be a second-round pick in the NFL Draft.
A full 99.9 percent of the time, the younger Kendricks will be ecstatic for his family, but that other small piece of him will be looking toward his future, so, so close. Right there for the taking. Inches, maybe, but important inches.
“It makes it so it’s like in my grasp,” Kendricks said, clenching his fists then releasing them, “but it’s not, I still have to work toward it. I see how much hard work he puts into it, and I have to do the same thing.”
He knows what he has to do, too.
That’s where the inches come into play.
Returning for his redshirt sophomore season after an impressive freshman year in which he ultimately carved out extensive playing time mostly behind senior Sean Westgate, Kendricks is working on getting low and staying low, dropping just two inches, he said. New UCLA linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich is pounding him on it, chanting, ‘Get low, get low,” to Kendricks in every drill, on every play.
And Ulbrich likes what he sees of Kendricks, who was named an honorable mention freshman All-American by collegefootballnews.com.
“He’s got some special attributes when it comes to playing linebacker,” said Ulbrich, who had a lengthy pro career with the San Francisco 49ers, where he eventually helped Patrick Willis along in his maturation. “I just don’t want him to get complacent, because it comes so easy to him, so much natural talent. My impression of him is he’s a hard working kid, a humble kid, a kid who wants to be great without a doubt in every way. but he hasn’t had success yet. We have to keep him disciplined and working hard. I’ve got to stay on him but the potential is through the roof.”
Ulbrich is hesitant to say too much about his young protg as he wants to pull every drip of potential out of Kendricks. He’s trying to keep Kendricks focused on the little things – this game of inches – while helping him emerge from big brother’s shadow.
“To me that’s a distraction. His standard, his level of play should be its own thing,” Ulbrich said. “I really believe that. Eric is Eric and his brother is his brother. They’re two different entities, and he can’t get caught up in that. We’re going to grind every day to make sure he’s the best Eric Kendricks he can be. That’ll be enough.
Ulbrich laughs and nods, then gets serious. His smile turns into a matter-of-fact, declarative statement.
“That’ll be enough.”