KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Felix Anudike-Uzomah took a trip to this year’s draft site in his hometown of Kansas City the first day of the event just for a look. Once there, he wandered in anonymity.
“Nobody knew who I was,” Anudike-Uzomah said.
He went back the next night after the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him with the final pick of the first round, No. 31 overall, and suddenly was a star. Everybody wanted their photo taken with him. He came out onstage at Kansas City’s Union Station during the second round of the draft to a large ovation from the many Chiefs fans in attendance.
Such has been the way of Anudike-Uzomah’s career. Few people make a fuss when he first arrives, but everyone knows his name by the time he’s done.
It was that way for Anudike-Uzomah when he showed up for football practice as a skinny freshman at Lee’s Summit High School outside of Kansas City. It was that way when he showed up for college at Kansas State, which promised him only a future scholarship because its allotment for that year was gone by the time the Wildcats became interested in him.
He far outpaced expectations at each stop, and left Kansas State as a star defensive end. The difference now is that as he walks through their door for the first time, the Chiefs’ expectations for him are big.
“He had a ton of production at Kansas State,” general manager Brett Veach said. “He just turned 21, so a majority of this production was coming in a big-time conference at 19 and 20 years old, and I think every year he’s been there you can see the growth and development.
“I still think there’s a huge window for him to continue to grow and develop, and we’re excited that we get him at this stage of his career and being so young. We’ve got a lot of years to continue to grow and develop him.”
WHEN AARON RODGERS and the 13-0 Green Bay Packers arrived at Arrowhead Stadium for a Week 15 matchup with the 5-8 Chiefs, they were three wins away from an undefeated season. It was Dec. 18, 2011, and the Chiefs were led by new quarterback Kyle Orton and interim coach Romeo Crennel.
Nine-year-old Anudike-Uzomah watched from the stands as his hometown team ended the mighty Packers’ perfect season.
The Kansas City native grew up a Chiefs fan in the lean years before the team hired Andy Reid as its coach or drafted Patrick Mahomes as its quarterback.
“From that, I just fell in love with it,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “It’s come full circle, which is crazy. I’m thankful for the Kansas City Chiefs fans because I was one of the Kansas City Chiefs fans, so I know how die-hard we are. This is all I dreamed of.”
Such a dream for Anudike-Uzomah seemed unrealistic when he arrived in high school weighing about 200 pounds. He was a multisport athlete, also playing basketball and triple-jumping on his school’s track and field team. At the time, he might have been better at other sports than he was at football.
“He was a developing kid,” his high school football coach, Eric Thomas, said. “He was just kind of undersized. He just hadn’t developed into what he was going to be. I still remember watching film of some of our varsity offensive linemen just abusing him in practice.
“You couldn’t see it happening for him when he came in as a freshman. We had Drew Lock here also. With Drew, you could tell right away that he was going to be something special. The ball just came out of his hand differently. Felix wasn’t like that early on.”
Anudike-Uzomah stayed with football and gradually improved. He harnessed the quick first pass-rush step that years later attracted the attention of the Chiefs. He became a top rusher, consistently beating the blockers who once dominated him, even as he put on little weight.
Still, he finished his high school career without a promise of a scholarship offer from any major college.
“A lot of that revolved around his weight,” Thomas said. “Colleges were worried he couldn’t put that weight on. He was 210, 215 pounds. He just never was the biggest guy. He’d get done playing football and go run up and down the basketball court all winter and then was a jumper in track and he didn’t want to put on too much weight for that.”
The plays that landed Felix Anudike-Uzomah with the Kansas City Chiefs
Check out the most impactful plays that contributed to a standout college career for Kansas State’s DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah.
ANUDIKE-UZOMAH WAS frustrated with the recruiting process and talked of quitting football and attending Missouri to study journalism. He was kept from that path only by a late offer from Kansas State. The Wildcats were out of scholarships for that year, but they promised to give him one once he showed up for school in the fall.
He was starting at the bottom once more, but again didn’t stay there long. His freshman year at Kansas State was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Anudike-Uzomah used his time in quarantine to add the weight that would help him become the player he is now.
Anudike-Uzomah said he went from 215 pounds when he finished his senior season of high school to about 250 by the time he arrived at Kansas State.
“I worked my butt off the whole quarantine,” he said. “I didn’t play any video games or really watch any shows. The only thing I did was just watch [pass-rushing] highlights over and over again every day and then work out in my basement and eating a lot so I could work on my body.
“All the hard work paid off. I’m glad I did what I did during quarantine instead of sitting around watching TV.”
His defensive line coach at Kansas State, Buddy Wyatt, said the Wildcats had initial concerns about Anudike-Uzomah’s ability to put weight on and maintain it.
“When he came to our camp as a high school junior, he was a 209-pound kid and we weren’t sure how big he would get,” Wyatt said. “When he got here as a freshman, he was around 230 and he could do some things just with his ability, not even always knowing the proper technique, not even really knowing the game.”
Anudike-Uzomah went from one sack in five games as a freshman to 11 the next season and 8.5 last year. He finished his collegiate career tied for sixth in school history with 20.5 sacks and tied for fourth in forced fumbles (8).
“He wanted to be the best,” Wyatt said. “He never was going to be one satisfied to be just OK. When I coached him and I corrected him, he took it to heart. When I told him he needed to get stronger in his upper body, he would go and get stronger in his upper body. I would tell him he needed to be better playing against the run. He would go watch tape on guys playing the run. He would ask me to put together a tape of NFL guys playing the run.”
Having played only three collegiate seasons, Anudike-Uzomah could have returned to Kansas State. But he said he believed he had accomplished all he could in college and is ready to play in the NFL.
That doesn’t mean he believes he’s a finished product. He turned 21 in January and said he plans on improving as much in his early years with the Chiefs as he did in high school and college.
“I want to work on my upper body, my hand placement,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “I want to work on a lot of things. Me being a younger rusher, there are a lot of things I can get from the older players about how to perform at the next level, tips and stuff like that.
“In a couple of years, I can be a veteran while being probably 23 or 22 or 24 and have a long career. I’m glad I came out this early, being young.”