Robert Nkemdiche has never been a typical defensive tackle. He weighs nearly 300 pounds but has the body composition of a linebacker. He looks leaner than most interior linemen. He was a highly touted recruit and a dominant force during his three seasons at Ole Miss. He was named to the All-SEC First Team after the 2015 season, but he feels he’s more than an athlete. He plays the saxophone. He’s in a band. And he makes t-shirts in his spare time.
STACK had the opportunity to watch Nkemdiche train to make the leap to the NFL at EXOS Los Angeles earlier this year. From the workout’s first sprint, it was apparent that Nkemdiche is a special talent. He moved powerfully and fluidly, with a form that you’d typically see only from smaller, quicker players. But in the weight room, he ferociously attacked exercises with the intensity you’d expect of a D-lineman capable of running over a 300-pound offensive tackle.
After the workout, Nkemdiche sat down with us to explain why his passions off the field fuel his performance on it.
RELATED: We Spent the Day With Su’a Cravens to Learn What It’s Like to be an NFL Prospect
STACK: What’s it like to be an NFL Prospect?
Robert Nkemdiche: It’s fun. It’s a dream. It’s something not a lot of people get to experience. Really, getting to enjoy this process is a blessing. You want to use this platform to help other people almost live through you, so that you can use it for a big purpose. I’m happy to be here.
How would you describe yourself as a football player?
High motor, aggressive, intense, persistent, never quit. I come all-day until the whistle is blown. I feel like it’s just because you never know when the play is going to be the last play for you. It can be taken away at any moment. So I like to take that play as it is and be in the moment in that play, live it to the fullest and be as aggressive as I can.
You have been described as versatile. Why do you think that is?
My size and my speed. Usually you have somebody who has speed or size, and sometimes you get the people who get the combination of both, and I’m one of those guys. I can do different things on the field. I can play D-line, play running back a little bit, catch the ball and play linebacker. So it’s a collection of different things that make me versatile.
When did you start dreaming of playing in the NFL?
Probably in middle school, when I first started playing. Julius Peppers was one of my favorite players. He’s one of my biggest football influences. I love that guy. I always watched him. He was so good and relentless, playing with a high motor at all times. I was like, It would be tight if I could do what he was doing. Just the thought of me being in his shoes on that stage, doing what he does, would be so fun. All of the sudden, you blink and it’s all here.
RELATED: How NFL Prospects Master the 40-Yard Dash
What is the toughest thing you’ve had to overcome in your football journey?
Just the expectations for being given so much talent. When everyone else is aware of it, you are automatically held to that standard at all times. If I’m working out, if I’m running, if I’m doing conditioning, I’m automatically held to this standard. So it’s always having to be aware of that standard, and then holding myself to it. There’s pros and cons to that. It’s good and bad.
What motivates you?
The world motivates me in general. Seeing where we can go and using my platform to help that process move forward is motivating. I went to Africa and got to see firsthand what struggle is. It’s humbling. It’s almost like you can’t not want to progress as people. You want to help. You want to have a push. You want to have a way to help people move forward.
What were you doing in Africa?
I went to Nigeria. My mom lives over there right now. I got to visit her. And I got to see what “not having a pot to piss in” means. I didn’t think that was real, but I got to see for myself. It was eye opening.
I was just going to visit my mom, but I saw all these kids who were so amazing. They were so content with what they have, which isn’t a lot. Whereas you see people here, and they aren’t content with anything.
What do you like to do off the field?
I feel like people ignore the different side that they have inside of themselves. People get caught up in one thing and feel like that’s all they can be. But people have another side. Mine, I just love to use creativity and art to show people that they can be whatever they want in life. If you’re a basketball player, you can still be an artist. If you’re an artist, you can still do whatever else you want to do. You don’t have to be arts or sports. It can be a collection of things. It’s almost just like opening yourself up and not cutting yourself short.
What creative hobbies do you enjoy?
Making clothes. A lot of the stuff is abstract. It’s just not like your basic t-shirt with a graphic print. I also make music. From the lyrics we say to the intensity and depth of the beats, it’s an awakening process for ourselves and the world. I feel like we are going toward it. Some people are blind to it. Sooner or later, people will understand what’s going on in the world.
What instrument do you play?
I play the saxophone. I love the saxophone. The tenor sax is my favorite. I’m going to pick up the alto and soprano eventually, but tenor is where my soul hits me and we meet balance. I played all through middle school, but of course things picked up in high school with football. I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything, and anyway it was either football or the marching band. You couldn’t do both. About eight months ago I picked [the saxophone] back up and have been rolling from there.
I am in a band. It’s cool. It’s called “On The Low.” We do gigs here and there. We have an electric player and an alto sax. A bass is in there, and we play with other people too. We just vibe and just give waves. So it’s fun. It just reconnects you and gives you a good vibe all the time.
Who are some of your influencers and favorite musicians?
There is a big jazz influence. But it’s almost like jazz with a mix of dark soul. John Coltrane is one of my favorite artists. David Bowie is one of my favorites. Miles Davis is one of my favorites. Muddy Waters. A lot of people have influenced me. Kamasi Washington is another sax player that’s amazing. He makes afro punk jazz, so it’s even tighter. Bob Marley is big influence. I love reggae. I still have a rap side, but I like people who rap about conscious things, things with depth instead of just blah.
How has your love of music impacted your football career?
I think it has helped me find peace and be able to relax off the field. People feel like in football you have to be aggressive at all times. I feel that you almost get more aggressive on the field when you can relax off of it. When you have serenity inside and can come away from that element for a little bit, you can focus a lot more when you’re in it. You feel more comfortable in your own skin. Just having those influences inspires me to be a better person on and off the field. You can get both sides if you open up those elements outside of football.
How do you get into an aggressive mindset on the field?
It’s almost like a switch. I’m in this element now, and when I am, I want to be in it with every inch of my soul. But once I step on the field, I’m in a new element with my soul all the way. So if I’m on the field or lifting all of this weight and supposed to be in this intense moment, I will be. Then I’ll go home and play the saxophone. So it’s just like balance. It feels right. It feels like it is supposed to be this way.
I don’t feel like I’m supposed to go home and turn on SportsCenter and clog my mind with football at all times. I feel like people need to get away, because getting away charges your energy. It charges you up. I feel like it’s good to have that switch that you can turn on and off. You know when it’s time to rage. You know when it’s time to be low. You’re in control of every thought, of every part of your whole aura.
What advice would you give to high school athletes?
Whether you are in a room by yourself or a room full of 10 people, know who you are. Because that will give you ease inside your soul. You can take care of so much if you are at rest inside yourself. When I look back at when I was a young person, when I didn’t know myself fully, I’d be playing football but thinking about everything else I had to figure out. Now everything is so much more relaxed because it’s not chaos. It’s not commotion. You’re so into every moment that everything is a lot easier for you. So know yourself.
RELATED: How Sheldon Rankins Became One of the Top Defensive Line Prospects in the NFL Draft