LOS ANGELES — It took until his senior season, but Eric Kendricks is finally gaining significant national attention.
Kendricks, the 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker, has led UCLA in tackles in every single game this season, whether by himself or sharing the top mark.
With one regular-season game left against Stanford on Friday — and at least one more postseason contest — Kendricks is eight tackles away from tying Jerry Robinson’s all-time school record of 468. That he’ll eventually sit alone at the top is more a matter of when than if, but he was loath to talk about the impending milestone.
“I tell everyone not to mention it,” Kendricks said. “People have a couple weeks back, but I haven’t heard anything [until] you just mentioned it.”
He should get ready for more talk through the last few weeks of the college football season. On Monday, Kendricks became one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given each year to college football’s top defensive player. No UCLA player has ever won the Butkus, which was first given out in 1985. All-American linebacker Anthony Barr was a finalist last season, but lost out to Alabama’s C.J. Mosley.
This year, Kendricks’ stiffest competition is likely Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who has 23.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. Kendricks has the edge in tackles (128 to 63) and interceptions (three to zero), but has just seven tackles for loss and two sacks.
In fact, Kikaha’s nation-leading sack total dwarfs the rest of the field. None of the other finalists — Miami’s Denzel Perryman, Michigan’s Jake Ryan, Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith — have more than two.
On Monday, Kendricks was also named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season, following his 14-tackle performance against USC. He also made a one-handed interception in the second quarter, one of the biggest plays of the 38-20 win against the Trojans.