There are some very specific qualities that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich thinks you need to have in order to be a great leader.
Eric Kendricks has every one of them.
“The greatest leaders are authentic, they’re real, they’re genuine, they’re honest,” said Ulbrich, who played linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers from 2000 to 2009. “That’s what (Kendricks) is. He’s not trying to be anybody but himself and he’s the same guy, every single day. He’s provided a great example for not just the linebackers but for the entire defense.
“I truly believe he is the heart and soul of this team. He makes everybody better, from the scout team to the starters.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Kendrick’s teammates and the college football world in general about Kendricks, a 6-foot, 230-pound senior linebacker from Fresno, Calif., who has led the Bruins in tackles the last three seasons and won the Butkus Award this season, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
“He’s been on me since I got here, to always push myself and to always get better,” UCLA linebacker Myles Jack said. “He’s irreplaceable ... he’s somebody I look up to. This is our last game together and I’m going to make sure I enjoy it.”
Kendricks has 139 tackles for No. 14 UCLA (9-3) headed into Friday’s Alamo Bowl against No. 11 Kansas State (9-3). His 470 career tackles are the most in Bruin history.
“I can’t tell you really, exactly, where my drive or my success comes from,” Kendricks said. “My parents had a lot to do with it, they always pushed me. And my big brother, Mychal, never let me get away with anything growing up.”
His father, Marv, played for UCLA and in the Canadian Football League. Older brother Mychal was the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year at Cal and is a third-year linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“You see the ball, you gotta go get it, I take pride in that,” Kendricks said. “I just try to be the same guy with my work ethic every day, run to the ball. That’s the key.”
Kendricks seems to have a future in the NFL — he’s projected as a second or third-round pick by NFL scouts — but there are concerns about his size. When asked what he might tell pro scouts or coaches about how he can make up for not being the prototype, Kendricks tilted his head to the side, thought carefully, and gave perhaps his most fitting answer of the day.
“I’m not gonna tell them anything,” Kendricks said. “I’m more about action.”