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Nkemdiche has chance to turn life around in AZ

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Posted at 4:56 PM, Apr 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-29 20:00:52-04

When defensive end Robert Nkemdiche was still on the board late in the first round of Friday's NFL Draft, Cards defensive line coach Brentson Buckner was more than a little excited.

"I'm like, there's there no way in the world this guy's falling to 29th," Buckner said Friday. "Then, it's sort of like Christmas. You're just waiting for the right hour to open the gift. I'm just like, I hope we make that decision."

Most experts agree the Cardinals got a steal when the ultra-talented star from Ole Miss fell into their lap at pick No. 29 Friday. Ironically, it was a real-life fall Nkemdiche took that probably allowed it to happen.

"Everybody made me feel welcomed. They accepted me for who I am."

In December, the 6-foot-4, 296-pounder fell from a fourth-floor hotel window on to a ledge, and then from the ledge to the ground.

His injuries consisted of only a few cuts, but when police arrived on the scene, they charged him for marijuana possession. He was subsequently suspended for Ole Miss' Sugar Bowl game in January.

Nkemdiche has done everything in his power to demonstrate remorse for that incident -- and on Friday, when he was introduced to the Arizona media for the first time, he said he's looking forward to showing the NFL what kind of person he really is.

"That's not who I am," the 21-year-old said as Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, general manager Steve Keim and president Michael Bidwell stood nearby. "I hate that that perception was created."

RELATED: 5 things you definitely want to know about Robert Nkemdiche

Nkemdiche is grateful to have a chance to make amends by playing for the team he hoped would be calling Thursday night.

"From the first time I came here, everything felt comfortable," he said. "Me and Coach Buck, Coach Arians, Steve, everybody made me feel welcomed. They accepted me for who I am."

Nkemdiche recently had dinner with Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, who overcame a number of off-field issues of his own that caused him to fall all the way to the third round of the 2013 draft. The Cards were rewarded by taking a chance on Mathieu, who was selected to the NFL's 2013 and '15 All-Pro teams.

Mathieu found a mentor with the Cardinals in cornerback and former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson -- and since he became a pro, the Honey Badger has been an incredible ambassador to the team and the NFL.

Last year, Mathieu did an ad for PETA in which he discouraged pet owners from leaving their dogs in hot cars. Most recently, he used TV and social media to rail against gun violence in his hometown of New Orleans.

"Seeing (Tyrann Mathieu) turn it around ... it just felt like it was the right place to be."

It looks like Mathieu may have the opportunity to do for Nkemdiche what Peterson was able to do for him.

"Tyrann's an amazing dude. I've actually been a fan of his for a very long time, ever since he's been the Honey Badger at LSU and I saw him go through a situation," Nkemdiche said Friday. "Seeing him turn it around and making it into something so beautiful, it just felt like it was the right place to be. 

"People go through things in life. It's up to you to turn it around and face forward, and keep moving forward, and he did that ... I'm just very excited to be on the same team as him and everybody else, and be part of this organization, because I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be."

Buckner said it's not his job to make Nkemdiche an exceptional player, because he already is. "I'm just here to make sure he maximizes his ability and to shine it up a little bit," he said.

And with the guidance of Mathieu, Buckner and the rest of the Arizona Cardinals, Nkemdiche seems poised to maximize his potential, both on the field and away from it.

"We all come in this game with an expiration date. It's what you do with that time when you're here," Buckner said.