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FSU's Nnadi chasing his dream

Fri, Jan 05, 2018

Reese's Senior Bowl: You've notched up a lot of honors throughout your career, can you believe your Florida State career is now over?
Derrick Nnadi: Yeah, I honestly even though I think about it, it doesn't feel like it's over but after that last game, that bowl game, it just hit me that yeah, that's the last time I get to play with my brothers again. 

RSB: Let's talk about that last bowl game. You enter the season with national championship aspirations. You end up in Shreveport in the Independence Bowl. What was the mindset for you ending up there?
Nnadi: Honestly, it's just finish strong. Just getting my team a victory in a bowl game because of how all those four years we've been kind of up and down in bowl games. The first two years, we lost back-to-back bowl games. And then we won my junior year in the Orange Bowl. My mindset was just get my teammates another victory in a bowl game. Just try to even out the win-loss record for bowl games. 

RSB: Is that a big motivation behind why you decided to play? With players starting to sit out bowl games, you were surefire going to play all the way.
Nnadi: Yeah, as well as that, it was just I wanted to play with my teammates again for one last time. So if I'm going to be part of the team the whole year, I might as well be part of them for the last game. 

RSB: How did you end up at Florida State highly recruited out of Virginia Beach?
Nnadi: Honestly, it's a long story. Well, it started off just my sophomore year, Odell Haggins - they didn't offer me that year - he just came to talk to me saying how if I went to their school, he'd coach me hard, things like that. He'll check in here and there, see how I'm doing, call me every now and then - him and coach (Tim) Brewster as well. And then he just continued visiting me through my sophomore and junior year and then in my junior year out of nowhere Coach (Jimbo) Fisher just comes out of nowhere to visit me and then offered me the same day. You know how it is with the recruiting process, I was checking out various schools here and there and then the thing that sold me to Florida State is when I was on my official visit and my teammate, well soon-to-be teammate at the time, Nile Lawrence-Stample, was my host. At the end of the visit, he was dropping me off to where I was staying over there, he pretty much told me all the things that Coach Haggins was telling me before they offered me and the things he'd been saying to me after they offered me pretty much that he would play the best players that are there. If you do the work, if I put work in myself to the way I should work, I should be able to play any time soon. He's pretty much saying the same thing that Coach Odell was saying and after I heard that from a player, I was already sold besides from Florida State having a great reputation of great athletes going into their organization. At the time they had a great O-Line, they have a great O-Line coach, which I was kind of really interested in because I knew that's who I want to be going with day-in and day-out as well Coach Haggins, who's one of the best defensive tackle coaches out in the country. 

RSB: Tell me about your relationship with Coach Haggins. He took over as the interim head coach and now gets to stay on the staff at Florida State. You guys seemed very passionate about how much the players support Coach Haggins.
Nnadi: Me and Coach Haggins, when it first started it was kind of I guess a half-hearted hate relationship because when I first came in as a freshman it felt like everything I did was wrong. I honestly felt like he didn't like me. But as time went by, all that really was was him trying to make me push myself even harder because it took me awhile to realize if he's on you that hard, that means he cares about you and wants you to succeed. And so year-in and year-out, I started paying attention to the things he's saying, things started making more and more sense. And honestly with him, he's just a great role model. He's helped me with a lot of things on and off the field. He has all my respect here through and through. And with him being the interim head coach, honestly I really didn't think anything would change. I've dealt with him all the years. I know what he expects, he puts us to a certain standard of excellence, make sure we do the right things on and off the field. So when he got the job as the interim head coach, I wasn't surprised, I wasn't happy, it's just he expects a lot, he cares about the kids - all the kids - over there so much. He wants them to succeed that badly. Anytime, there's any help needed, he's the first one to help us as soon as he can with this and that. He just loves the organization so much. And he does so much for the kids as well. And with him coming back next year, it just proves that fact that he loves the organization from the bottom of his heart. 

RSB: You come from Virginia Beach and go to school in Florida. Are you a beach guy or is beach just something that shows up in your hometown?
Nnadi: Kind of yes and no. It's kind of like that's the vibe I get when I'm near a beach - it's kind of more a relaxing type thing. Before I left for Florida State, I didn't really go to the beach that much just because I was kind of busy. But now anytime I get close to the beach, anytime I go home, I always go to the boardwalk just to stay over there and relax, just breathe it all in honestly. 

RSB: This year, the opener against Alabama - the injury to your quarterback Deondre Francois and then the season doesn't go as you hoped it would go. At the point in the season where you guys are all but eliminated from College Football Playoff contention and people outside your program say you have nothing left to play, what clicks in you that says you still have something to play for?
Nnadi: Honestly the whole time I'm thinking to myself, the type of position we're in right now, it is bad, but that shouldn't be the reason for us to just give up right now. Honestly we just gotta keep pushing forward and try to make the best of every situation we're in. Even though it's bad, we can still get some good out of it. I always told my teammates, don't worry about what people are saying, it's about us right here. Even though what's going on right now is bad and a bad situation, at the end of the day, if we keep doing what we gotta do, we can make the best out of it. 

RSB: Tell me about your teammates, your counterpart at D-Tackle Demarcus Christmas is returning for his senior season but you also have some teammates that are leaving for the NFL with you – some leaving early like Josh Sweat and Derwin James. Tell me about your teammates and going through this process together?
Nnadi: For just the few that are declaring, like you said, I'm really happy for them because they've done so much in their time there at Florida State. But dealing with them, it's gonna be like a family reunion. I already know what I’m gonna expect from them. Whenever I see them, I'm probably going to be expecting them to be improved in everything they've done. For any of my other teammates, and the ones that are returning like Demarcus Christmas, he's pretty much like my brother at this point. We came in the same year, he was my roommate when we first came and we just kinda clicked maybe a week after and everything has just been smooth sailing. 

RSB: What is the biggest thing that you're looking forward to in the Reese’s Senior Bowl and what was your reaction when you got the invitation?
Nnadi: Honestly, when I was invited I was really happy. It just shows all the things I’ve done this past year is really paying off right now. My own mindset is just trying to improve in everything I can do - whether it be speed, strength, agility, anything like that, just anything honestly. My mindset is not necessarily the game, just really the drills and practice drills. That's where I feel like I can really thrive in. That's one of the things I'm really focused on.

RSB: I've read that you squat 750 pounds. Are you doing more than that now or is that about right?
Nnadi: Actually, that's not really accurate. At the time, they made me stop at 750 because they're like there's no need to do any more weight. Just make sure no one gets hurt, I don't get hurt. But I feel like yes, I am stronger at this point.

RSB: You're a stout player in the middle. You've been a great run stopper but you've also penetrated and gotten to the quarterback throughout your career. How do you see yourself as a player and where you fit in a NFL defensive line?
Nnadi: I feel like how I normally am, I'm really good at just run stopping but I feel like I can be a pass rusher as well. To answer your question, I see myself as an all-down player - first down all the way to third down.

RSB: You're Twitter bio says #DreamChaser. Tell me about the dream, has it been the NFL your entire life?
Nnadi: Honestly, yeah, it's been like that since I was a little kid. it started a long time ago. I was a little kid and my first game I ever watched was I think the Steelers and the Bengals, I might be wrong on that, and just watching it, it gave me honestly hope. I just looked at it and was like that could be me. And ever since then, I always told myself I wanna play football and going through middle school, high school playing middle school ball, high school ball and all that, before I played I kinda had issues like me just having confidence in myself. And when I started playing, it gave me more and more confidence in myself off the field as well as on the field. It just helped me out throughout my life honestly, helped me learn a lot of life lessons - things like I can really help other people with. Showing that it's bigger than myself in everything that I do and you gotta be a team player in a lot of things you do in life as well as sports. And so continuing on into high school and to college, I was given the opportunity to help out any younger kids who are in the process of trying to do the same thing as I'm trying to do and just telling them the things that it takes to get to this point whether it be how much you gotta work on the field as well as in the classroom and just overall being a good person. That's honestly been my dream just to be an inspiration to someone else. Someone they can look at to better themselves. 

RSB: You've been a positive figure in that Florida State community for a long time. When you get to the NFL, you're going to be a professional in the community. In whatever NFL city you end up in, what do you want people to think of when they see or meet Derrick Nnadi?
Nnadi: I just figure people will see me as... If you ask my friends, they'll probably say "he's a great person, he's really goofy at times..." but at the same time, I try to treat others the way I would want to be treated. So I always treat everybody with respect no matter what even if it's something I disagree with. They still, as a person, get more respect regardless. I always tell myself if I don't want to be treated that way, if I don't want to be treated as such, I'm not going to treat somebody else just like that either. So always treat somebody with respect. "Yes ma'am, no ma'am. Yes sir, no sir. Please. Thank you." It's just how I've been raised.

RSB: You wrote a piece for the Players Tribune before the season opener that came out on Sept. 1, 2017. As a senior leader on that team, why did you feel it was necessary for you to come out and write this pieces putting some words out there knowing that you had to go into your locker room as the mouthpiece. Was there anything that made you hesitate about what you were going to say?
Nnadi: No, I really didn't hesitate on anything. It's just honestly just how I felt and I felt like a lot of my teammates felt the same way. So I didn't really feel as trying to hold anything back.