A fan-favorite series is coming back to the site as it is officially prospect interview season. For anybody new to the site or for people who need a reminder, every draft season I sit down with prospects that are going to be in the upcoming NFL Draft to talk with them about their off-field accomplishments and some film aspects on the field. While I don’t always talk to star players, I have been able to talk to a few players who eventually ended up with the Colts such as Khari Willis, Marvell Tell III, and Rock Ya-Sin.
Our next prospect interview is with Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu. We had a great conversation about his reserve role in college, his insane athleticism, and what type of work ethic he brings to an NFL team.
Weight: 210 pounds
Class: RS Senior
Nwangwu is a former three-star recruit Heritage High School in Frisco, Texas. In high school, he was a star football player and track athlete, as he owns school records in the high jump (6-10), long jump (24-2.75), 100 meters (10.54), and 200 meters (22.0). He had an immediate impact as he was a First Team Freshman All-American kick returner (PFF) and Second Team All-Big 12 as a return man in his first year. However, he didn’t get much run on offense due to the high-level play of running back David Montgomery on the roster.
He suffered a season-ending injury as a sophomore and received a medical redshirt. Upon returning, he found himself behind two of the best running backs in college in football during his last three years (Montgomery and Breece Hall). Still, Nwangwu remained productive as he finished his career with 143 carries for 744 yards (5.2 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. He also averaged nearly 30 yards a return as a senior and finished his career with an average of 26.4.
He was named as the Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for his academic success as a senior. He also received invites to the NFLPA Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, and CGS Gridiron Showcase after his career.
ZH: I noticed that you were the Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2020. What did it mean to you to see all your hard work pay off?
KN: It was almost like graduating to me, like, putting a bow on top of my college career. My major was Mechanical Engineering. It was a tough road to do it for five years but it felt good to accomplish something and get the recognition for it. It was a lot of hard work though to graduate with that degree.
ZH: That’s awesome that you were able to do that while playing football. Was it ever difficult to balance the two?
KN: At Iowa State we had a lot of resources— tutoring, scheduling, and academic advisors— so it was tough but it was easier when you have those resources around you to help out.
ZH: I see here that you were a Team Captain as well this past year. What did that honor mean to you?
KN: This year was actually interesting with Covid going on. Our head coach decided that the seniors and some of the juniors who were leaders would all be captains. All of us had “C’s” on our chest throughout the season and we would vote each week on who would go out for the coin toss. But yeah man, being a Captain was fun, especially in that running back room. Just being around those guys and knowing their personalities made it a bit easier for me. Breece (Hall) and Jirehl (Brock) are going through different things that you may have experienced, so being able to reach back and reach the room is how I tried to be a leader.
Sheesh Kene Nwangwu has the potential to have a Nyheim Hines-like career #NFL #NFLDraft2021 #NFLDraft | @KWang3_ @TheNyNy7 pic.twitter.com/gCH1UtBgb8— OutCYde the Lines (@OutCYdetheLines) January 23, 2021
Stuck Behind Studs
ZH: You were basically stuck at Iowa State, playing behind David Montgomery and Breece Hall. Was there ever frustration about your role in that offense?
KN: I mean yeah, at times. I felt mostly though that we were all learning from each other. We would go to practice and, we were always communicating about how to improve and such. The way that we treated the running back group was whoever is out there, there shouldn’t be a drop-off in performance or anything. We are always trying to get each other better. I’m a team guy so whatever I need to do for a team, I’m going to do to the best of my ability. If it is as a kick returner, then I’ll be the best kick returner in the country. Whatever they tell me to do, I’m gonna try and do it.
ZH: Do you think that’ll help you at the NFL level? The NFL is so based on roles nowadays.
KN: Yeah, I think, for sure. My experience of being a backup running back and special teamer will help in the NFL. It helped my mindset be, like, whatever role you need me to be in on the team to help the team win, I want to be the best at it. Next year, if the NFL needs me to be a gunner, I’m gonna be the best gunner in the country. That’s just how I take it.
"If you ask me, that's the play of the game. If that doesn't happen, I don't know what the outcome is." - Matt Campbell on @KennyWang3_ and his huge KR return in the 4th Q— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) October 4, 2020
Nwangwu has the third-best career KR avg. (26.8) among active NCAA players.
️ ️ pic.twitter.com/kbfdwzkLut
ZH: Your speed is insane to me. The clip against West Virginia where you knifed through their defense completely won me over. Do you see yourself as a slasher, one cut and go type back?
KN: I think that is how my game is really. That West Virginia play was blocked perfectly, man. The middle linebacker was playing on the backside a little bit so I led him backside and then went out the front side gate. I really try to just make one cut and hit a hole.
ZH: Yeah, and typically you are gone after hitting that hole. You were a major track guy in high school, right?
KN: Yeah, I was. I wanted to specialize in jumps but I’m fast so I had to do sprints and all that too. I went to states in high jump and long jump, and I won in high jump with a 6-11 and I got third in long jump with like 24-5. In high school though, Texas speed is different. Running like a 10.5 or 10.6 gets you around sixth or seventh at State... or not even to Regionals even.
ZH: There were a couple numbers I saw out there for you. Was your best time 10.54 or 10.71 (in the 100m run)?
KN: My best unofficial time was a 10.54.
ZH: I have that conversion thing and that is like a 4.39 in the 40. I don’t want you to predict anything but you are going for some crazy numbers at your Pro Day right?
KN: Yeah, that’s the goal. To gauge where I am at, my last game was January 2nd against Oregon. I took a week off before I started training. I came up to Boost Fit in Nashville a week later and we pretested without training and I ran a 4.40 on a laser time. That is pretty much where I am at right now.
Kene Nwangwu is freaky athletic pic.twitter.com/pVu87juPIE— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 21, 2021
Pass Catching Concerns (?)
ZH: So we talked about your rushing style and your role as a return man. A big part for you in the NFL though will be how well you catch the ball with your speed. That isn’t something you did very much at Iowa State, so how comfortable do you feel as a pass-catcher?
KN: Yeah, that is just something that I have to keep working on. I didn’t see much of it in game reps so, that is something I’ve just been working on. At the CGS Gridiron Showcase, we had catching drills and, I caught all my balls and felt comfortable doing it. I just haven’t been exposed to many game reps with it but I know it is something I can do at a high level.
@CycloneFB strikes first!— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 31, 2020
Kene Nwangwu brings it in to put Iowa State on top pic.twitter.com/8pWaF451dN
ZH: What is my team getting if they spend a draft pick on you in this class?
KN: If I were going to brand myself, you are getting a team guy. I can play wherever a team needs me as I mentioned earlier. Whenever I do get opportunities to run the ball or be productive on the field, I feel like I do it at a pretty good ability. Whenever my name gets called to run— I mean against TCU I had one carry for 49 yards and a touchdown for example— I am going to use that opportunity to the best of my ability. That is what I’ve always done in my college career.
Kene Nwangwu is a day three player I will die for this year. As @PFF_AustinGayle says it, J U I C E pic.twitter.com/9hNIzuSBTE— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 21, 2021
The NFL game is built around role players nowadays. These role players don’t need to be all-around superstars, they just have to be productive in a few areas of their game. That is what I see with Kene Nwangwu. A smart team will spend a day three pick on this explosive playmaker and be set with their third running back/kick return for the near future.
He did meet with the Colts at the CGS Gridiron Showcase so they are doing their homework on him. With Marlon Mack likely leaving in free agency and Jordan Wilkins nearing the end of his rookie deal, the Colts could look at adding another elite speedster to the backend of their positional group. I think the fit in Indy would be perfect for him.