Cancer survivor Udeze makes a new impact during Vikings camp

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2013 - 5:49 AM

– The toughest member in this practice-ending scrum wasn’t Jared Allen, Kevin Williams or any other member of the Vikings defensive line.

Nope. That honor belonged to Cole Halbakken of little Lake Mills, Iowa.

Cole stands shorter than 5 feet. And he might go 80 pounds, assuming someone filled his shoes with rocks.

But he’s a survivor. A 10-year-old cancer survivor.

“Four years, 117 days since diagnosis,” said his mom, Kyra Reps. “Not that anyone is counting.”

Cole woke up Monday morning with no idea that his day would end in Mankato breaking down the Vikings defensive line huddle.

“I got to yell, ‘1, 2, 3!’ ” Cole said. “And then they yelled, ‘D-Line pride!’ It was pretty cool.”

Interview over. Slipping on the huge souvenir gloves he had just acquired, Cole sprinted for the nearby blocking pad he had been champing to take a whack at when a nosy reporter got in the way.

“It’s great to see him so full of energy and being just a kid,” said former Vikings first-round draft pick Kenechi Udeze, who has been with the team this summer as part of the NFL’s Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship. “He’s come a long way.”

Udeze already knew Cole. He also knows the path Cole has traveled. The 30-year-old Udeze started down his road to beating acute lymphoblastic leukemia about a year before Cole began his journey.

“I’m doing great,” said Udeze, the 20th overall draft pick in 2004. “I’m alive.”

He also just passed a critical five-year anniversary.

“July 16, 2008,” said Udeze, referring to the date that he received a bone-marrow transplant from his brother, Thomas Barnes. “They say that puts me into a better percentile of the leukemia coming back again. They say less than 1 percent. I feel blessed.”

A little over four years ago, Udeze traveled to Lewiston, Minn., to be the guest speaker for the Fools Five Road Race, a fundraiser for cancer research. Organizers wanted Udeze to meet this 6-year-old boy who had just been diagnosed.

“Cole had just come from getting a spinal tap and his chemo treatment,” Reps said. “He was in a wheelchair, so Kenechi said he’d push Cole in the race.”

Cole’s last treatment was June 25.

“Before he broke down the huddle, that little guy told us his story,” Williams said. “It’s good as NFL players when we get to bring a smile to his face like that. But he brought one to ours, too.”

The Vikings break the Mankato portion of camp Thursday morning. Players and coaches will travel to Winter Park and then board a flight to Buffalo for Friday’s preseason game.

Udeze is young enough that he could be on that flight as a player. He is also in good shape and appears to be a little lighter than his playing weight of 281.

But Udeze’s playing days ended in the summer of 2009, when he tried to make a comeback after a year off. His coaching fellowship also ends Thursday, so he will be saying goodbye again.

“I’d love to end up back here coaching one day, but even if it doesn’t happen, everything that I learned here, I got that forever because I’m always taking notes,” said Udeze, who spent three years as the strength coach at the University of Washington and last season helping coach the Seattle Seahawks defensive line.

“Plus, I got to see all the guys I used to play for, the coaches. I even got to see Matt Cassel, my former [Southern California] teammate and one of my best friends. When I was lying in the hospital and crying after I got diagnosed, Matt called me and asked me if there was anything he could do. Anything.”

Udeze had one request.

“I was in California at the time,” Cassel said. “And he said all he wanted was to eat some Slippery Shrimp from Yang Chow’s, our favorite place in L.A.”

“The next morning, I got a cooler with dry ice in it,” Udeze said. “I was eating Slippery Shrimp that morning.”

Udeze said there was a time when he cried every day for months because football had been taken from him. Not anymore.

“Of course, I wish I was breaking camp and going to Buffalo to play a preseason game,” Udeze said. “But my path was different. That’s OK. I like the path that I’m on. I want to have an impact on people’s lives.”

People like Cole Halbakken.



 

  • related content

  • Video: Access Vikings: Final day of training camp

    Thursday August 15, 2013

    Dan Wiederer and Mark Craig talk about Christian Ponder's consistency problems as the team prepares for its second preseason...

  • Felton undergoes emergency appendectomy

    Thursday August 15, 2013

    Vikings Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton likely will miss the rest of the preseason after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday afternoon.

  • Hartman: Expect NFL to back Wilfs in stadium snag

    Thursday August 15, 2013

    The Vikings owners are confident a lawsuit judgment and a review of their business won’t hinder progress.

  • Vikings day at camp: Wright's catch highlights big day for receivers

    Thursday August 15, 2013

    Camp snapshotThe final camp practice was a receiver highlight reel. In 7-on-7 work, Cordarrelle Patterson’s one-handed grab against A.J. Jefferson...

  • Former Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze (right, assisting defensive coordinator Alan Williams) spent training camp with the team as part of a minority coaching fellowship.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago WSox - LP: S. Carroll 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: H. Kuroda 5
Tampa Bay 4 Bottom 10th Inning
Toronto 4
Detroit 4 Top 9th Inning
Minnesota 12
Seattle 7 Bottom 7th Inning
Boston 3
Baltimore 2 Delayed
Chicago Cubs 4
San Francisco 0 Delayed
Washington 0
Houston - C. McHugh 6:05 PM
Cleveland - D. Salazar
St. Louis - S. Miller 6:05 PM
Philadelphia - D. Buchanan
Atlanta - E. Santana 6:10 PM
Cincinnati - M. Leake
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez 6:10 PM
Milwaukee - W. Peralta
San Diego - A. Cashner 7:10 PM
Arizona - V. Nuno
Miami - T. Koehler 7:10 PM
Colorado - J. Lyles
Detroit - J. Verlander 7:10 PM
Minnesota - T. May
Kansas City - J. Guthrie 7:25 PM
Texas - N. Tepesch
LA Angels - C. Wilson 8:05 PM
Oakland - J. Lester
NY Mets - J. deGrom 8:10 PM
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke
Tampa Bay 3:30 PM
Buffalo
Tennessee 6:00 PM
Atlanta
Dallas 6:00 PM
Miami
Washington 6:30 PM
Baltimore
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Indianapolis
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Kansas City
St. Louis 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Houston 8:00 PM
Denver
San Diego 8/24/14 3:00 PM
San Francisco
Cincinnati 8/24/14 7:00 PM
Arizona
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:00 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
UCF 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Penn State
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
Oklahoma State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Chicago 6:00 PM
Toronto FC
Montreal 6:00 PM
Red Bull New York
Chivas USA 6:30 PM
New England
Houston 6:30 PM
Columbus
D.C. 7:30 PM
Sporting Kansas City
Vancouver FC 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Montreal 16 FINAL
Winnipeg 24
Toronto 0 9:52
Edmonton 0
Calgary 8/24/14 2:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/24/14 6:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 2:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Indiana 4:00 PM
Washington
Minnesota 6:00 PM
San Antonio
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pm
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pm
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who would you rather have on your team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close