TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –Derrick Nnadi is feeling right at home in the NFL.
And not just because his new team, the Kansas City Chiefs, plays a recording of the Marching Chiefs’ War chant at their home games.
Nnadi, an All-ACC defensive tackle who the Chiefs picked in the third round of last month’s NFL draft, has been aided by a handful of helpful veterans and familiar faces, which in turn allowed him to get off to a fast start at Kansas City’s rookie minicamp last week.
“The first day was the worst day – I feel like it’s like that for anything you do,” Nnadi said. “Then after that, on the second and third day, I was really prepared for what my coaches told me. I just had a great camp, and, honestly, it’s been how it’s always been.”
For Nnadi, “how it’s always been,” means performing at a dominant level, with a skillset that brilliantly blends strength – Nnadi was almost universally understood to be the strongest player on FSU’s roster – and technique.
It’s that latter point that Nnadi thinks will come in handy as he transitions to life in the pros.
“They rarely are padded up in a practice. It’s mostly helmets and jerseys,” Nnadi said. “You’ve got to learn how to practice a lot more efficiently. You’ve got to focus on your technique, because you can’t use brute force.”
Luckily for Nnadi, he arrived in Kansas City with a strong foundation of defensive techniques that he credits to his Florida State position coach, Odell Haggins.
Haggins, a former FSU defensive tackle himself, played for the Seminoles in the late 1980s and with the NFL’s 49ers and Bills from 1990-92.
He then joined coach Bobby Bowden’s staff in 1994 and has been teaching defensive tackles since 1996.
Nnadi is Haggins’ 18th protégé to be selected in the NFL draft.
“Honestly, a lot of the stuff I hear from (NFL) coaches is the same stuff that Coach Odell has been telling me,” Nnadi said. “Techniques, keys, things like that. I feel like it’s the same old, same old. I’m hearing the same things.”
He’s also seen some of the same faces he saw during his days in Tallahassee.
The Chiefs have three of Nnadi’s former FSU teammates on the roster, including lineman Cameron Erving (2010-14), linebacker Terrance Smith (2011-15) and linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (2012-14), who transferred to Georgia Southern for his senior season.
Reuniting with Erving means that the two will likely be able to reprise their one-on-one practice battles from the days when Nnadi was a freshman and Erving a fifth-year senior.
“It helps me,” Nnadi said. “In case I’m unsure in certain areas certain things I’ve got to do, I can go to them for advice.”
Nnadi has also made a fast first impression with some of his veteran teammates on the defensive line, including standouts Xavier Williams and Chris Jones, among others, who offered Nnadi some words of encouragement as he transitions to the NFL.
“Most of them have told me that the opportunity is up to me,” he said. “It’s up to me to see how well I want to prove myself. I could possibly start, if I put work enough into it.”
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach seems to agree.
Veach thought so much of Nnadi that he traded a fourth-round pick to move up 11 spots and draft Nnadi at No. 75 overall. Speaking with reporters after the draft, Veach also noted how impressed he was by Nnadi’s ability to contribute at FSU as a freshman.
“From the first time he stepped on the field at Florida State, he played,” Veach said. “I think he started 38 of 39 games, so that guy went from high school right to (contributing at) Florida State.
“Obviously, this guy will be able to come right in and play for us and help us out.”
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While at Florida State, Nnadi was never shy about his intentions to use football as a means to provide for his family. Nnadi’s parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria and often worked long hours to take care of seven children – of which Derrick is the baby.
So when draft night rolled around last month, there was only one place that Nnadi wanted to be:
At home in Virginia, surrounded by his family and a few close friends.
“Man,” Nnadi said before pausing to laugh. “it was a crazy night. The waiting game was probably the worst part of it. But when that phone call came, everything just fell off my shoulders. I looked to my left and my mom was just smiling with joy.
“Then when my name got called on TV, it was just an explosion of happiness all around the room.”