When Purdue's football team prevailed over Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl to end 2017 with a victory in its first post-season game in five years, Boilermaker fans and players rejoiced. It was particularly special to the team's seniors, among them linebacker and Krannert alumnus Danny Ezechukwu.
"Our seniors have gone through a lot and it hasn't been easy," head coach Jeff Brohm said after the Old Oaken Bucket game that secured Purdue a bowl berth. "They had a great attitude and worked hard, they fought through adversity, hung with us and believed in what we were teaching."
Adversity is nothing new to Ezechukwu (pronounced easy-CHOO-coo), of course. After being redshirted as a freshman in 2013, the Lithonia, Georgia, native struggled with the demanding role of a student-athlete and changed his major from engineering to industrial management.
"It bridged the gap between my interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and business analytics," he says. "I was fortunate to have found a major at Purdue that provided me with that opportunity."
As Ezechukwu became more comfortable in the classroom, he also flourished on the gridiron. He played in all 12 regular season games as sophomore and junior, regained a spot in the starting lineup as a senior, and was named an Academic All-Big Ten in his final three seasons of play.
"When I finally got my number called to go into the game, it was a huge blessing," Ezechukwu says. "The one thing I told myself is, if I'm ever removed from this spot, it's not going to be because of a lack of preparation or a lack of effort."
Indeed, Ezechukwu lives by a simple mantra. "Life favors the prepared man, and the more you prepare, the smarter you are," he says. "They say effort can replace mistakes. Preparation is really what trumps all mistakes. The more you prepare, the better off you are."
After he completed his undergraduate degree in May 2017, Ezechukwu prepared for life after football by working as financial analyst intern at Purdue's Wade Utility Plant over the summer.
"I organized the true cost of energy from previous years consumed by buildings on campus, conducted audits on plant equipment, and created the graphical interpretation of the trend in the plant's natural gas hedge fund," he says. "The most challenging project was the cost-efficiency report I created for the self-sourcing versus outsourcing of ash hauling done by the power plant."
With a new coaching staff on the sidelines and a remaining year of NCAA eligibility, however, Ezechukwu kept the football dream alive and began his graduate studies in Purdue's Technology Leadership and Innovation Program in tandem with the 2017 season.Following the Boilermakers' victory in the Foster Farm's Bowl, Ezechukwu also earned the chance to display his skills to NFL scouts in January's College Gridiron Showcase. "My first dream is to play professionally, but if the NFL doesn't work out, I know my Krannert degree will bring other opportunities," he says. "I can't really describe it. It feels like I'm a character in a book, and this is how it ends. It feels great."