Uche Nwaneri, former Purdue offensive lineman, has died according to multiple outlets. The 7 year NFL veteran with the Jacksonville Jaguars was found unresponsive in a bedroom of his wife’s West Lafayette home and preliminary results show he suffered a heart attack possibly from a medical condition due to an enlarged heart. He was just 38 and leaves behind a wife, Michele, and two daughters.
Originally from the Texas, Uche attended Naaman Forest High School in Garland where he was a top 60 defensive lineman recruit and rated a 3 star player. Soon after his enrollment at Purdue, Uche was converted to an offensive lineman where he would star for the Boilers for the rest of his career before being drafted in the 5th round of the 2007 NFL draft.
This one hurts to type because Uche was a friend. He and I were sort of the opposite end of the spectrum that has made numerous sitcoms and movies so popular; the big, athletic football player and the scrawny, little band nerd. But Uche was so much more than that and he and I bonded quickly during our freshman year at Purdue in 2002.
We both were placed on the second floor of Southwest Wiley Hall where we struck up a friendship over video games, football, and politics. That would be a recurring theme for those who got to know Uche, whether in person or through his activity through Twitter. He and I stayed up for late nights after practices playing Halo, ordering Mad Mushroom, and talking about an endless amount of topics.
Soon, as most students in college do, I started to attend parties and Uche attended a few of those band parties with me and I went to my fair share of football parties as well. He had a knack for making people feel good about themselves and he never judged you for who you were. He just accepted you for you and he expected you to be ok with yourself. He was unabashedly himself at all times and although that got him into trouble at one point in his college career, he never stood down from what he felt was right (he was right by the way).
Uche introduced me to Joe Tiller at a function once and when staff asked how I was affiliated with the program, Uche just said ‘he’s my friend from the marching band.’ I ended up being around so many football players, Tiller once called me ‘tuba guy’ and I got asked to try Arnette’s favorite cookies while on a tour of his office. Uche even made sure that his away tickets for games were held for me and I got a chance to go watch him play at numerous away games during our time at Purdue.
During our freshman year, Uche told me he missed being home and having a home cooked meal so I invited him and two other football players (Ray Williams and George Hall) to my house for dinner. My dad, who was battling cancer at the time, beamed when I showed up with three football players barreling out of the my S-10 Chevy and immediately said ‘well, I hope I cooked enough food.’ My dad ended up passing away later in my freshman year and Uche called me on the phone. He spoke to me for over an hour and expressed how he wished he could have been able to attend services.
We grew apart after he graduated and was drafted but I sent him messages every once in awhile to tell him good luck or to just make sure he was doing alright. I recently ran into him at the Target in Lafayette and I saw him before he saw me. I repeated a line he and I (and our entire WIley SW 2 hall) would say frequently as freshman at Wiley Hall, ‘y’all playing Halo?’ He snapped around and said he knew it was me and gave me one of his patented huge hugs. We spoke for awhile, introduced me to his dear wife Michele and his two daughters. We promised to catch up more in the future, grab a bite to eat, and get to a football game together. Unfortunately, that will not happen and I am saddened to know I have lost a dear friend that I won’t get to truly reconnect with.
Uche was a great player during a peak time of Purdue football in the early to mid 2000’s but he was an even better friend. He was truly a unique individual who was well thought of for his career in the NFL and how he had shifted his post playing days to running multiple businesses and being on his podcast ‘The Observant Lineman.’