Three years ago, IK Enemkpali made a big mistake -- "a young mistake," he called it. He was only 19, coming off a promising redshirt freshman year at Louisiana Tech. He was out one night in early April at Rabb's Steak House, an off-campus haunt in Ruston, Louisiana. There was a bar fight shortly after 1 a.m., and Enemkpali ended up striking an off-duty, undercover police officer who was working security at the bar.
Details are sketchy, but Enemkpali (pronounced: IN-em-PALL-ee) lost his temper in a bad way. A uniformed officer arrived on the scene and used pepper spray on him, but that didn't subdue him. Finally, the officer stunned Enemkpali with a Taser, reports said. He was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer and disturbing the peace/drunk, according to court records. He spent more than three hours in a holding cell at the Lincoln Parish Detention Center and was suspended indefinitely from the football team.
In the months leading up to the most recent NFL draft, Enemkpali was grilled about the incident by every team that interviewed him, including the New York Jets. There are dozens like him in every draft, players that step outside the law. Some let their misdeeds define them. Others try to use their transgressions to make them better people. Enemkpali wanted his prospective employers to know he belongs to the latter category. He made an impression on the Jets, who drafted the undersized pass-rusher in the sixth round.
"I was just being a young. [It was] a young, hot-headed decision," Enemkpali said at last weekend's rookie camp, looking back on his arrest. "I didn't think about everything. If I knew what I know now, I would've gotten myself out of that situation.
"I lost my cool," he added. "That's what it was. I didn't know he was undercover, which is no excuse, but ... Yeah, I lost my cool."
The charge was amended to simple battery and, on Jan. 25, 2012, Enemkpali received a suspended jail sentence and was placed on 13 months of probation. He was ordered to perform 32 hours of community service and to complete an anger management course, according to court documents. He also was fined $200. He never missed any games, as he was reinstated before the 2011 season.
Enemkpali rallied from the adversity, finishing with 17.5 career sacks (third on the school's all-time list) and making All-Conference USA as a senior. Perhaps his proudest accomplishment was becoming a team captain. In that role, he addressed younger teammates on the importance of staying out of trouble. He shared his experience, hoping they could learn from his mistake.
"I learned a whole bunch," he said. "I learned not to take this game for granted. I learned that even what I do off the field can look selfish. What I do affects my team and my family. I take a lot of pride in my last name and bringing good things to it. I kind of tarnished it a little bit."
An official from another team that checked into Enemkpali's background came away with the belief that the bar fight was "an isolated incident." The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Enemkpali "got hooked into it because he was helping somebody else out. I don't think he was the cause of it. ... He's a good kid, a really good student, a leader and a captain."
The Jets hope he can sack the quarterback. Jets coach Rex Ryan shared that sentiment in his first conversation with Enemkpali.
"When Rex called me on draft day, he asked if I'm ready to get after the quarterback," he said. "I'm not going to brag on myself, but that's what they called me in here for."
At 6-foot-1, 261 pounds, Enemkpali looks more like a fullback than an edge-rusher, but some of the league's top pass-rushers are undersized. He mentioned Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Hall of Famer John Randle, a 6-foot-1 defensive tackle who went undrafted out of Texas A&M-Kingsville. Enemkpali, who grew up in Austin, Texas, watched a lot of tape of Randle. He sees his size as a positive, not a negative.
"I feel like I've got power behind me, and I can turn my speed into power," said Enemkpali, learning to play outside linebacker in the Jets' base 3-4 defense. "If they over-set me, I feel like I have the ability to come inside. Low man wins in football. On the edge, if you don't give them a surface to hit, they really can't block. Those big O-linemen, they're not going to bend, so I've already got the advantage of being short. If you stay low, it's a win-win."
Enemkpali's speed came into question at the scouting combine, where he ran a disappointing 5.01 seconds in the 40. As one opposing scout said, "It wasn't bad, it was awful." No doubt, it contributed to his fall to the sixth round. The same scout was stunned because Enemkpali never seemed slow on the field, rushing the quarterback.
"He's not real fast, but, man, his play speed is good," the scout said. "He's got burst, he's got acceleration and his instincts are good enough."
A 40-yard dash doesn't always quantify a player's true ability. Enemkpali already has proven that he won't let a few bad seconds, acted out in a late-night bar fight, bring him down.