CHICAGO (WOOD) — For every high school football player who doesn’t have a college scholarship offer, a player like Kenny Willekes offers hope.
A Rockford native and NorthPointe Christian graduate, he showed up to East Lansing as a walk-on and went on to earn All-American accolades.
The honor came after a career year last season. For his career, he has 151 tackles and 15.5 sacks. He’s 10th on the Spartans’ all-time sacks list and is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
“He’s a guy that’s very explosive, very tough, hard worker, prepares, rubs off on everybody around him,” head coach Mark Dantonio said Thursday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “His intensity is contagious.”
He also makes the defense better. Take it from his teammate and another All-Big Ten performer, senior linebacker Joe Bachie:
“His heart. His heart can’t be matched. His work ethic is above all. He’s just a guy who is a grinder,” Bachie said. “He goes in there and he understands what needs to be done and he’s going to do it to the best of his ability.”
“The biggest thing is trying to learn from someone every day, try to pick up on someone. I like to say, be the dumbest person in the room,” Willekes said. “Always try to learn from someone in the room. If you can learn from the older guys and the strength coaches, just pick up something every day and grow as a player and a person.”
Willekes has grown and continues to do so. He suffered a broken fibula in the Redbox Bowl vs. Oregon in December. That injury just served as another motivator for those who may underestimate what No. 48 can do on the field.
Willekes said he has always envisioned this kind of production on the field — but was he sure it would end up like this?
“I never knew it’d come to fruition,” Willekes said. “But it’s always been my dream to come here and play.’
“It’s really about chasing dreams I think he’s done that and continues to do that at a high level,” Dantonio said.
His dream now is the same as every other Spartan: win a Big Ten championship.