Photo Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics
Germany Law Firm - Mississippi Scoreboard

By Billy Watkins

         For the most part, this is what we know about the life of Ole Miss offensive lineman Nate Kalepo — and it all seems so perfect.

         He was a starting offensive guard for the Washington Huskies, who played in the college football championship game last January against Michigan. They beat Texas in the semifinals to make it.

         Shortly after the season, the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Kalepo entered the transfer portal and signed with Ole Miss, which was determined to bring in players of his size and skill set for a run at the 2024 12-team playoff.

         He allowed just one sack in 572 pass snaps last season. And from all accounts, he has made his mark in the Rebels’ spring drills.

         Kalepo has signed an NIL deal with the Grove Collective, which pays thousands of dollars to Ole Miss student athletes each year.

         What a life this 22-year-old has led, most people say.

The University of Washington football team plays Michigan for the National Championship at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on January 8, 2024. (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

         But look a little deeper.

         Before his freshman season with the Huskies, Kalepo lost his mom, 41-year old Kimberlee Jordan. Kalepo was left with four siblings — two older sisters, two younger brothers — to help watch over.

         In the family-written obituary, Kimberlee was remembered as a cancer survivor who provided “even when she was a single mother.” They called her “an amazing woman that Superman could not hold a candle to.”

         Kalepo has her named tattooed on his left arm. She is always the last person he talks to in the dressing room before a game, Kalepo told me during a recent phone interview.

         Such a loss is a heavy load to carry every day, every night, even for a physical giant.

         And few realize that the four-star prospect, who grew up just 15 miles from the Huskies’ Seattle campus, did not earn a starting spot until last season. He played in only 13 games his first four seasons, which included a redshirt year. Yes, the Huskies’ offensive line has been that good.

         He turned down scholarships from Tennessee, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan, USC and several other schools. But even when he couldn’t crack the starting lineup, he never doubted his decision to sign with the team he grew up watching in person from the cheap seats on Saturday afternoons.

         “(Not starting) was humbling,” he told Seattle Times columnist Mike Vorel before last season. ““Because coming from high school, you think you’re this, you’re that. You have four stars, five stars. But right when you get on campus you get humbled, because these are grown men you’re playing against.”

         Kalepo said during our interview that the wait was not the timing he would’ve preferred  “but God had a plan for me.”


         Kalepo enjoys humbling defensive linemen now.

         When I asked him what he loves about football, he answered: “Moving another grown man from Point A to point B against his will. Nothing is more satisfying than that.

         “ I try to make a habit of being very physical — a shout out to my o-line coach (Scott Huff) at Washington in seeing that in me.  I strap my helmet up a little tighter, bite down on a mouthpiece a little harder. I feel like it’s a mentality at the end of the day.”

         Perhaps the biggest change Kalepo has had to make is avoiding McDonald’s.

         “I loved it, man,” he said, laughing.

         And those stories about him spending $60 to $70 on a single meal there?

         “All true,” he said.

         After settling on a more nutritious diet a couple of years ago, he has lost 35 pounds since his days of weighing 360. It’s improved his agility, quickness and stamina. He’s been able to add more muscle and strength.

Photo Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

         He had options as soon as he entered the transfer portal. But Ole Miss had a couple of advantages.

         “It just seemed like a good fit for me,” he said. “My old (Washington) teammate Victor Curne, who started for Ole Miss last year, called me up as soon as I entered the portal. Plus, my teammate since high school (6-foot-8, 315-pound Julius Buelow) also committed to Ole Miss.

         “And I liked how the players here had the same mindset that I have. They’re committed to working hard and winning.”

         He already has a winning start against an SEC team — the Longhorns of Texas. So there is no SEC “mystery” in his mind.

         “I feel like football is football, whether it’s in the SEC or China or anywhere else in the world,” he said. “Honestly, I feel like I can play really fast because I’ve seen all the looks. If they line up like this, I know I can fit it like that. If a guy lines up a little wider, I can handle it like this.”

         He certainly wants a different ending to his final college season. Michigan thumped the Huskies 34-13 in the national title game.

         “At the end of the day, it really is just another football game,” he said. “But in that moment, with all the cameras and media … I feel like I let the moment get a little too big for me.

         “I learned a lot. Just focus on your film study and lock in to what you’ve done all year. I feel like I’m much more prepared (for the playoffs) now.”