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Let’s appreciate Kenny Willekes

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The former walk-on’s production can’t be appreciated enough

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

We need to talk about Kenny Willekes and formally appreciate him.

I don’t mean just saying “yeah, he’s been good!” and leaving it at that – no, we must go deeper in the form of this blog post he may or may not ever see.

Six games into the season, he’s been the biggest surprise on this team and his performance on the defensive line – which we all knew would be a question mark this season – is a huge reason the Spartans are 5-1. There’s simply no denying that after a season that saw just 11 sacks.

Heck, just in the last two games alone he’s had moments where he’s shifted the momentum. But let’s back up a second here before we talk about more about this season. Let’s rewind to the offseason, where the defensive end position became a mystery after Josh King and Auston Robertson were booted due to sexual assault.

Michigan State v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Who stepped up and filled the gaps left by two former 4-star recruits? Willekes – a kid that wasn’t even ranked by recruiting sites and whose only offer came from Wayne State. And a kid that also wasn’t even listed on the depth chart for the final game last season. I mean, Willekes only played on defense for four snaps last year, and that was against Rutgers. That barely counts.

Now, the former walk-on built like a linebacker is killing it on the defensive line, especially the last two games.

Against Michigan, Willekes dealt nine tackles – three for a loss – and two sacks.

Against Minnesota, he added one more sack and a fumble recovery that he instantly pounced on to set up MSU with its first touchdown. And he earned the fan-voted Player of the Game – not too shabby.

He might not be the MVP of the defense (but certainly in the conversation with Josiah Scott, Joe Bachie and Co.), Willekes deserves all the praise he can get for what he’s doing to this team as a walk-on. You can use all the clichés – he’s gritty, hard-working, deceivingly powerful – and, whether you like them or not, they’re all true.

No one expected anything from Willekes this season, but he’s certainly been the surprise this defense needed to rank amongst the best in not just the Big Ten, but the nation. Let’s give him his props for that.