BC star Kiwanuka drawing notice
Lightly recruited defensive end from Cathedral finishes as an All-American
By Michael Pointer
Meet Mathias Kiwanuka
• High school: Cathedral, Class of 2001.
• College: Boston College.
• Position: Defensive end.
• Height: 6-7.
• Weight: 262 pounds.
• Honors: Won the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's top lineman. A two-time All-Big East Conference selection and All-Atlantic Coast Conference choice this season. Also named to the American Football Coaches Association All-American team this season.
• Family history: Kiwanuka's parents moved to the United States from their native Uganda, where his grandfather was elected the nation's first prime minister in 1961 and was assassinated in 1972 following dictator Idi Amin's bloody coup.
• Pro potential: Listed as one of the top 16 senior players in the country by Pro Football Weekly and the only defensive end to make the list. . . . Some draft analysts believe he will be an outside rush linebacker in the NFL.
• What could have been? Kiwanuka likely would have been a perfect fit at Purdue, where the Boilermakers have turned out a bevy of stellar defensive ends during coach Joe Tiller's nine seasons.
But Purdue -- along with nearly every other major Division I program -- didn't recruit him, largely because he struggled to stay above 200 pounds in high school.
Boston College assistant football coach Don Horton remembers the night he stumbled upon a future All-American.
Horton, the Eagles' primary recruiter in the Midwest, was scouting two prospects during a Cathedral High School game in September 2000.
He landed both recruits, but it was yet another player that had him reaching for the phone.
"He said, 'Who is No. 90 on your team?' " recalled former Cathedral coach Rick Streiff, now at North Central. "I said, 'Mathias Kiwanuka.'
"He said, 'Can you spell that for me?' "
The player nicknamed "Kiwi" was a lightly-recruited defensive end and tight end until that point. Indiana was the only school from a power conference showing much interest.
NFL scouts are interested now.
Kiwanuka signed with Boston College the following February and won the Lombardi Award this season as the nation's top lineman. His college career ends today when the No. 19 Eagles play Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
Despite the honors, it has not been an easy senior season. Kiwanuka missed one game after suffering a knee injury and part of another after being ejected. That's the kind of scenario feared by any player who bypasses the NFL draft for one year when he would have been a high-round pick.
Kiwanuka said he has no regrets.
"The fans and the school just kind of took me as one of their own," the 6-7, 262-pound Kiwanuka said in a telephone interview last week. "If I would have had bigger offers on the table, I might not have ended up here. But they weren't (available), and it's worked out well for me."
Kiwanuka's talent was overlooked except by those closest to him. He played on his second Class 4A state championship team as a junior at Cathedral in 1999, but that team had five players who signed NCAA Division I letters of intent. Streiff said Kiwanuka might have been the most lightly recruited of the bunch.
He was a member of The Star's Super Team in 2000, but most of the publicity went to teammate Otis Shannon, who graduated as the state's all-time leading rusher.
"We certainly knew about him," Horton said. "But we didn't know if he was a football or basketball player. He was tall and lanky."
Kiwanuka weighed around 200 pounds during his senior year at Cathedral.
But BC saw some potential. The fact that it aggressively recruited teammate Jeremy Trueblood, a close friend who will start on the Eagles' offensive line today, didn't hurt. Horton came to watch Trueblood when he discovered Kiwanuka.
"We knew they could put some weight on him, but just how much could his body hold?" Streiff said. "Boston College rolled the dice. He and Jeremy were pretty tight, and having them both out there probably made him better, too."
Becoming a star at BC
He redshirted in 2001, then had five sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown in 2002. He led the Big East in sacks with 11.5 in 2003 and had 24 quarterback hurries. He again led the conference with 11.5 sacks in 2004 and became a team leader in the process.
"Mathias is like a pied piper," Horton said. "People get around him and want to be close to him.
"Take the Virginia game. Things got a little hot. But as soon as they touched Mathias, the whole team erupted."
Kiwanuka suffered a right knee sprain when he was chop-blocked from behind by Virginia's Brad Butler during Boston College's 28-17 victory on Oct. 8. A melee ensued.
He was ejected later in the game after another confrontation with Butler, then missed the following game against Wake Forest because of the injury.
"The guys here took to my leadership because I was part of them, developing from a scout team player to where I'm at now," Kiwanuka said. "My situation embodies what we are at BC."
Taking lessons to pros
Kiwanuka said he learned something valuable from the injury, which lingered throughout the season.
"I was able to come out and put together a good game without necessarily practicing the whole week," he said. "That's a lesson I've learned that I'll take to the next level."
But was there ever a time when Kiwanuka kicked himself for not entering the NFL draft last April?
He had finished a bachelor's degree in psychology before the season. Boston College's dreams of an Atlantic Coast Conference title ended with back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina in November.
"No," he said. "Obviously, there were a couple of games we would like to have back. But the season as a whole, I'm definitely pleased with the way it worked out."
Kiwanuka plans to sign with an agent soon after today's game, then head west to a yet-to-be determined location for individual workouts. His next trip to his hometown might be for the National Football Scouting Combine in February at the RCA Dome.
"I consider myself to be a pretty humble person, but I'm pretty confident in my abilities," he said. "Maybe I didn't think I would end up an All-American when I got there. But put me in a one-on-one situation, I feel like I'm going to win."
Call Star reporter Michael Pointer at (317) 444-6641.
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