Ole Miss Rebels linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche has been called many things in his life; it comes with having a Nigerian last name that many people can’t even pronounce, let alone spell. However, the name that has plagued him growing up is simply, “Robert’s brother.” For most of his life, Nkemdiche has fought off the shadow that comes with being highly-touted, Ole Miss freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche‘s older brother: the best high school recruit in the nation last season, and one of the best to come out of Georgia in a long time. His recruitment was one of the most highly publicized processes for an high school player all of last year, when he ended up signing with Ole Miss to play with his brother.
Denzel has heard about the hype surrounding Robert all his life. When college coaches came to their high school games, they weren’t necessarily there to see senior Denzel, as much as they were there to watch the then rising sophomore, Robert, play.
The hunger and drive to rid himself away from Robert’s shadow ultimately guided Denzel to Ole Miss.
The 5-foot-11, 295 pound redshirt sophomore linebacker snagged 101 tackles and eight sacks as a high school senior at Grayson High School in Logansville, GA.
Academic concerns almost sent him straight to the junior college ranks, however, as numerous schools were worried he wouldn’t qualify to their institutions. But when got his grades in check, numerous schools came knocking on the door for his talents. Miami, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and home-state Georgia were a list of few that became very interested in adding Denzel, late after National Signing Day.
Ole Miss loved the versatility he had shown as a polished linebacker and safety at Grayson. They also offered him the chance for early playing time, and for him, personally, a chance to a make a name for himself and get out of the spotlight of his brother. With the help of former Rebels offensive line, coach Mike Markuson and former head coach Houston Nutt took a chance on Denzel, and secured his signature three months after signing day.
After arriving to camp in late August 2011, the Rebels’ coaching staff redshirted him during his freshman campaign in Oxford. After the season, Nutt and his staff were let go.
Going into last season, the new Rebels staff didn’t know where Denzel projected best at, secondary or in the linebacker corps. Hugh Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack made him a linebacker, and he eventually became a starter in fall camp. And that’s when the story is written.
Denzel broke out in 2012 with 82 tackles, four forced fumbles three sacks and three interceptions, to become a solid leader for the Rebels. The solid play against Alabama when he registered 11 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles became his breakout game last season. He was named second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press, named and to the SEC All-Freshman team last season.
He is not the biggest, fastest or strongest player out there on the field. Despite being one of the most undersized linebacker in college football, Denzel makes up with his knack to fly to the ball carrier and put himself in position to make plays on the field. This season, Denzel is going to be thrown into the fire of being a constant contributor on defense for the Rebels to duplicate their success from 2012.
Denzel understands his own success, and has created his path toward success at Ole Miss; a path to make a name for himself, and cast a shadow that will be hard for his brother, Robert, to get out in Oxford.