Former USC players impressing as coaches on Trojans' staff

Kenechi Udeze (middle) during on-field drills at USC practice. Garry Paskwietz

Lenny Vandermade and Kenechi Udeze were teammates at USC during the early stages of the Pete Carroll era and experienced a lot of success as part of the Trojan program.

Vandermade was a four-year starter on the offensive line from 2000-03 as both a guard and center, while Udeze set a school-record for sacks (28) as an All-American defensive lineman from 2001-03 before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

They have each worked their way up the coaching ladder, with Vandermade spending time at both San Diego State and the University of San Diego in addition to recent years as an offensive administrative assistant for the Trojans, while Udeze served coaching internships with the Buffalo Bills and Vikings before spending the past year as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at USC.

With the coaching transition at USC this year, both former Trojan players now find themselves thrust into assistant coaching roles as the team prepares for the Holiday Bowl matchup against Wisconsin.

Vandermade was promoted mid-year by then-interim coach Clay Helton to coach the tight ends after Marques Tuiasosopo had moved to work with the quarterbacks (he has since added working with the offensive tackles for the bowl game following the recent departure of OL coach Bob Connelly). Udeze has taken over defensive line coaching duties after Chris Wilson was not retained.

For Vandermade, the opportunity to give back to the current players is one that he does not take for granted.

"I love this place," Vandermade said of USC. "It's given me so much, and for me to be an alum in this situation is really special. I look at it as an opportunity to give back to the guys who are going through the process, so that we can make those who came before us proud. As a coach, I just try to be myself. I try to go hard and I hope they feel my passion about this game and about this place. If it matters to me, it should matter to them."

Vandermade also shares a connection with Helton in terms of how the new USC coach treats the players.

"Coach Helton is one of the most selfless dudes I've ever been around," Vandermade said. "Everything is always about the players and how we can serve them. I really relate to that. I want these guys to experience the same things I had a chance to experience with Rose Bowl games, January bowl games. That's the ultimate goal."

He also has some positive words for USC fans on what they can expect to see from new offensive coordinator Tee Martin, someone that Vandermade has had a chance to observe behind the scenes in recent years as part of the Trojans staff.

"You're going to see a competitive guy," Vandermade said. "He's going to run the football. I know people see him as a former quarterback but he won a national title (at Tennessee) running the ball and throwing it over everyone's head with play action."

It has been a different path for Udeze to arrive at this spot. After his pro career was cut short due to a battle with leukemia, Udeze immediately began working toward a coaching career, even if it involved working with the S&C program at first.

"It was never my goal to be a strength coach but that's the way I found my way back to USC last year," Udeze said. "I've coached before, I did two minority internships with the Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings, and then of course I had one year with the Seahawks, so I've got a good amount of knowledge of things."

So how are things different working as a position coach as compared to a strength and conditioning role?

"As a strength coach you learn the kids and how to get them going," Udeze said. "But when you're on the football field it's a different dynamic in terms of learning what he's capable of doing. That's what this job is, you have to evaluate the talent and give the players what they need to carry out the defense. I tell them that the power is in the learner. It doesn't matter what I've accomplished, or what I've been through, it's all about what I can get out of them."

Helton has been impressed by what he's seen from the former USC players in their brief time in their new roles as they continue their learn the profession.

"I'm very proud of both of them to see the way they've stepped into their roles of coaching a position group," Helton said. "To have two guys who understand the tradition, who understand that the bar is set high, it's invaluable to have them working with our guys every day to make sure they know where that bar is."

Vandermade said knowing that USC standard is definitely an advantage.

"Kenechi and I were here together in the trenches so obviously we know what it takes," Vandermade said.