As cancer comeback stories go, Kenechi Udeze's doesn't have a made-for-TV ending—but it came close. Informed in February 2008 that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the 6'3", 281-pound Vikings defensive end sat out last season to fight the disease, receiving a bone-marrow transplant from his brother Thomas Barnes that July.
Ten months later Udeze, a 26-year-old former first-round draft pick from USC, was working out on his own at the Trojans' facilities; by June he was back with the Vikings, participating in minicamps and organized team activities, apparently on track to realize his goal of returning to the NFL this fall.
But last Thursday, a day before the Vikings opened training camp, Udeze abruptly announced his retirement. Though he says his cancer is in remission, the side effects of treatment have made it difficult for him to withstand football's physical demands. Chemotherapy caused numbness in Udeze's feet, preventing him from being able to plant firmly or create a burst up the field after the snap.
According to Vikings coach Brad Childress, Udeze was initially worried "about being [perceived as] a quitter," but he no longer sees himself that way. His voice mail greeting quotes former NBA player Wayman Tisdale, who battled cancer for two years before passing away in May: "Quitting is not an option. No matter how dark it gets."
TOM DAHLIN/GETTY IMAGES (UDEZE)
BIGGER BATTLE Side effects from leukemia treatment caused Udeze, 26, to retire.