One Tough Hombre
Nov. 15, 2013
By Adam Miller,
At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, East Carolina senior linebacker Kyle Tudor maintains many of the attributes of a safety from his body frame to his ball-hawking instincts.
A product of Augusta, Ga. - a state known by many as a high school football recruiting hotbed - Tudor's physical play and desire to punish an opposing ball-carrier has been taxing on his playing time during his ECU career.
"It goes by a lot faster than you think," Tudor said of his college career. "I've been riddled by small injuries here and there, which has plagued my career. There are always things you wish you could do more."
Injuries have been some of Tudor's toughest battles to overcome. As a sophomore in 2011, Tudor missed the first three games of the season after suffering a left knee injury during the final week of fall camp. He went on to play the next eight games, while making four starts, before being sidelined in the finale after suffering a right ankle injury against UCF.
The following season Tudor played in all 13 games and earned the team's Linebacker-of-the- Year award, but the nagging injuries were not yet behind him.
He was unable to suit up against Virginia Tech in the third game of the 2013 season after a shoulder injury, and played minimally in ECU's 55-31 road victory over North Carolina just two weeks later.
Throughout it all, head coach Ruffin McNeill has praised the linebacker's eagerness to get back on the field and contribute to the team. McNeill even went on to call him "one tough hombre" when media members inquired about Tudor's health status.
"He just knows that I'm not going to let the little things like injuries hold me back and that I'm going to give everything I've got, no matter what," Tudor said. "I'm not scared to hit people. I've always been physical and my father never let me not be physical when I was growing up, so that was something I always kind of hung my hat on.
"I think he's referring to the fact that I don't mind hitting and that I try to get a big shot here and there."
While playing in such an aggressive manner gets the fans in a frenzy as they anticipate a big hit that will jar a ball loose and give the ball back to the offense, the aches and pains as a result of those on-field collisions have become costly to Tudor's playing time.
"He just loves contact," coach Rick Smith said. "We have to pull him off sometimes because he has one speed.
"I remember when we were recruiting him and he came up for a visit, I told myself he was going to become a linebacker. Watching him on tape, we loved him because he was so instinctive and aggressive. He's very intelligent and makes very few mental mistakes." Smith's praise for Tudor extends beyond the football field, too.
"I can't say anything negative about him because, if I did, it wouldn't be true. I know he's committed to being a team player and the best player he can be. He understands that the only thing he deserves is what he earns. That's just his make-up."
However, Tudor is much harder on himself because he understands the ramifications of what many might consider a very minor miscue on the field. It's another way that his aggressive play sometimes gets the best of him.
"I don't want to make any mistakes," Tudor said. "A lot of times I try to go get the ball and I get away from my job, but that's just a part of the game. I don't want to make any mental mistakes. I want to help the team any way that I can."
The relationship between Tudor and Smith has a unique structure. While Smith recruited and signed Tudor as part of East Carolina's 2009 signing class, he opted to follow then-head coach Skip Holtz to South Florida at the conclusion of that season. Smith returned as the Pirates' defensive coordinator for the 2013 season where Tudor is once again under his tutelage and Tudor couldn't be happier to be back under his wing.
"He's taught me how to have fun," Tudor said of Smith. "It's easy to lose focus and remember that it's a game. Coach Smith always says on Saturday's that he wants us to have fun. That's a big thing our team has been doing this year because the last couple of years, we haven't been having fun. It was really just going through the motions, and now you can tell that the emotion on the defense is a lot different."
While fun was admittedly absent from East Carolina's defensive agenda, it comes with the territory. Tudor and numerous other fourth and fifth-year players on the squad have withstood the test of time between two different coaching regimes, but he is more than pleased with the culture McNeill and his staff have implemented.
"It's always hard when you get accustomed to someone and then they leave, and then you have to prove yourself again to another staff," Tudor said. "Coach Ruff teaches us more of a family style, where the old style was more of a CEO style and business-like. Both of them have their perks and they both work. I just love Coach Ruff and I'm glad I can say he is my coach."
Tudor may be an intimidating force on the field, but he does not take any of his privileges and opportunities for granted. He loves coach McNeill, and most of all he loves his family.
"They're the only people in my life that I trust," Tudor said. "My family has always been there for everything. They've come to every game and they'll be there for anything to support me. I'm very thankful for them."
While he is unsure of where his next step in life may be after football, Tudor likes it that way. He has goals set out for himself and wants life to take him wherever it may. Tudor earned a bachelor's degree in management and graduated last fall, but he may not be done in the classroom for quite some time.
"If I make it to the next level [the National Football League] that would be cool, but I want to go to law school after this is all over," Tudor said.
"It would be cool to be remembered as someone that was tough, but I want to be known as a good person, a good friend and somebody who helped better position the team."