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Kenny Willekes Michigan State Walk-on

Just about everybody loves a good underdog story. That’s why movies like Rudy are not only inspirational, but very successful.

A high school football player that is not considered good enough to be recruited but walks on at a major college is already admirable. But, when that walk-on works hard enough to earn a scholarship, his story is elevated considerably. The story keeps gaining momentum when the walk-on becomes a starter. It’s icing on the cake with any more success.

Arkansas native Brandon Burlsworth went from unwanted to first team All American. Now, that is success. Oklahoma Quarterback Baker Mayfield is another example of a person that definitely

improved his situation by not giving up.

I’m not sitting here writing this and saying that Michigan State’s completely unknown Kenny Willekes is as good as Burlsworth, or Mayfield.

But, Kenny Willekes from Rockford, Michigan, is definitely working to make his own story better.

Willekes was a star at Northpointe Christian High School. Over his high school career, Willekes finished with 423 tackles. He was All District for 3 years, but his senior year was fantastic. He totaled 162 tackles with 6 and a half Quarterback sacks. But, he also had time to rush for over 1,400 yards and score 14 Touchdowns. Things that stood out to me while watching his highlight videos were his tenacity, aggressiveness and athleticism. At the time, he was listed as 6-3, 235. He has really good quickness for his size and he just buried defenders when he blocked.

The big boys barely noticed. Willekes did unofficially visit a couple of smaller schools during December of his senior season.

The Michigan State Spartans offered him a spot as a preferred Walk-on and Willekes jumped at the opportunity.

A Preferred Walk-on is just somebody that is guaranteed a spot on the 105 man roster instead of just some guy that comes in off the streets wanting to earn one of those spots.

Kenny Willekes just got a chance to prove himself and really that’s all he needed at the time.

When a walk-on comes into a football program, he’s almost like that old Spaghetti Western main character that rides into town and just starts shooting up the place. Everybody loves the scholarship

athletes that come in with the accolades from high school. Michigan State freshmen like Hunter Rison even come in with a name since his father was a former Spartan and NFL great. The pressure is all on that guy to live up to his father’s name. On the other side, young Kenny Willekes was almost a complete unknown.

Willekes didn’t come to Michigan State to remain a man with no name. During his freshman season of 2015, he was redshirted. But, that also meant he was likely to be on the scout team. The scout team lines up during the week and is basically like a blocking dummy for the starters preparing them for the following weekend’s games. Some young guys go through the motion and don’t put out any effort on the scout teams. But, that was not for Kenny Willekes. He was scout team player of the week 6 times in 2015.

Willekes did not play at all in 2016 as the Spartans fell apart and finished with a miserable 3-9 record.  That was after a 12-2 record in 2015, an 11-2 record in 2014 and a 13-1 record in 2013.  A 36 – 5 record over a 3 year period was about as good as anyone not named Alabama, or Ohio State.

2016 was a tough time for the Michigan State Spartans.

With former 4 star Auston Robertson booted from the team and another talent Demetrius Cooper with a questionable standing team standing, the Spartans needed some help and depth at Defensive End.

Kenny Willekes was moved from Linebacker to Defensive End.

He was also given a scholarship by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. The greatest thing for a walk-on player is to earn a scholarship. But, usually it happens when the guy is going into his senior season and because of roster attrition. When the numbers are right, they will give out a scholarship to a deserving walk-on.

But, Kenny Willekes received a scholarship after his redshirt freshman season.

His teammates sing his praises about his work ethic. He is apparently unmatched in his desire and commitment to become a football player. Those are the kind of guys that make it in college football and maybe the NFL. Anybody that works extremely hard in the weight room, in film study, in the classroom and all areas of becoming a great student athlete will earn the respect of his teammates.

His coach, Dantonio, compared Willekes to Marcus Rush the former Spartan Defensive End from

those great defenses of the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Willekes started at Defensive End in the Spartan Spring Game. You could just see the fire in his eyes with his level of play. He showed great desire and quickness and finished the game with 8 tackles and 1 and a half tackles for loss.

One can never tell about a Spring Game. Willekes could disappear and never be seen again after this inspirational effort, although I sincerely doubt that happens. Defensive coaches apparently have taken a liking to Willekes and I am thinking he plays and he plays a lot in 2017 and beyond.

The coaches had him at Linebacker and moved him around a bit, but he is at Defensive End now and able to focus on that position and improve. He is already using his hands well to hold off blockers and he has really good quickness. He does lack ideal size at about 6-4, 240, but he will get there with his work ethic being so outstanding.

Keep an eye on Kenny Willekes for the 2017 season. He’s got a shot at being pretty good.