Kenny Willekes - It's No Wonder That He Drives Team Chemistry

Kenny Willekes - It's No Wonder That He Drives Team Chemistry

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Kenny Willekes - It's No Wonder That He Drives Team Chemistry

A year ago, the 4- and 5-star recruits across the Big Ten hadn’t ever heard of Kenny Willekes.  The Spartan defensive end has gone from unknown walk on to a guy who’s now the latest Spartan killer headed for the NFL.  And some of the Big Ten knows who he is now.

Contact @crowleysullivan

Here’s something that nobody has ever referenced when examining the pretty incredible rise of Kenny Willekes –

He’s a Chemistry major.

As I’ve said before, my father-in-law cheekily reminds me of how I was an English major at “an Ag school.”

I know what he’s trying to say.

And if he ever is in a discussion with someone about Kenny Willekes and the subject of Willekes’s major came up, he might say, “So, he’s a Chemistry major at an Ag school?”

The last time I was in any scenario where I was required to be attentive about chemistry was in 1987 as a student in Dr. Wagner’s chemistry class.

Dr. Wagner – a fantastic fellow with a dry wit – said this to me about halfway through that year of mine in high school, “Sullivan – I think you are aware of this but just in case there is any doubt – chemistry is not your calling.”

If someone paid me meaningful money me to study chemistry at Oakton Community College, I’d flunk out of the program by the third (or second or first) exam.

The defensive ends that are projected to start for Ohio State – are they Chemistry majors?

Kenny Willekes is entering his fourth year in the Spartan program.

He started as a walk on.

Nobody recruited him.

The Rockford, Michigan native wanted to play football at Michigan State.

In the Spring of 2017 – just a little more than a year ago – he was awarded a scholarship.

To those of us who have paid attention, the facts related to Kenny Willekes’s performance in the 2017 season are a lot like the facts related to Michigan State’s success over the last decade in the way they speak for themselves, the way “experts” are unaware of them, the way they don’t stand alongside circus-like buffoonery, and the way they indicate that things are only just getting started –

  • He was named third-team All-Big Ten by both coaches and media.
  • He was named to the final Ted Hendricks Award Watch List, given annually to the nation’s best defensive end.
  • He was named recipient of the MSU Outstanding Underclass Lineman Award on defense.
  • He played in all 13 games, including 12 starts.
  • He led team in sacks (7 for 28 yards) and tackles for loss (14.5 for 42 yards).
  • He ranked tied for sixth in the B1G and tied for 47th in FBS in tackles for loss (14.5), as well as tied for seventh in the B1G and tied for 52nd in the FBS in tackles for loss per game (1.12).
  • His 14.5 TFLs tied for 16th on MSU’s single-season tackles for loss list.

That bullet about the sacks – let’s address that one.

Spartans recall that the 2016 Spartans earned that disastrous 3-9 record thanks to a lot of tangible and intangible factors.

A tangible factor was the anemic push from the defensive front that resulted in a paltry 11 sacks on the entire season.

The 2016 team’s individual sack leader was Demetrius Cooper – he had 2.5.

17-star recruit Malik McDowell had 1.5 sacks in 2016.

Entering the 2017 season, it was obvious that the defensive front – particularly the attack from the edge – had to find a way to pressure and get to the quarterback in ways that suggested the team wasn’t the Sigma Chi flag football team playing on Munn Field.

In 2017, the Spartans racked up 28 sacks on the season.

Team leader for individual sacks?

Kenny Willekes – the former walk on – with seven (7).

At this past week’s Big Ten Media Days, Mark Dantonio spoke about how he could have brought five or so more Spartans to the event in Chicago in addition to Brian Lewerke, LJ Scott, and Khari Willis because there are so many strong, authentic leaders on the team.

I asked him who some of those other players are.

His immediate, without-hesitation response went like this:

“Joe Bachie.  Kenny Willkes.  Andrew Dowell.  Felton Davis.  Raequan Williams….there are actually plenty of others….”

At 6’4″, 260 pounds, Willekes has the frame to have speed and strength on the edge.

He’s proven that with his performance last season and the logical progression is for him to continue to get even bigger and faster – and for him to only improve on the field.

But the leadership component – that’s where he demonstrates that he’s the type of player that makes this program what it is.

And he knows what this stuff means –

It says here that Willekes will end the 2017 season – if he remains healthy – with at least ten sacks.

It also says right here that his accomplishments have as much to do with his maniacal effort on every single play as much as they have to do with his skill.

And it says right here that as the 2017 season progresses, the people who still don’t know who this guy is will know who this guy is.

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