After injury on top of injury, redshirt sophomore Ken Ekanem is finally healthy and ready to make an impact at defensive end.
In his senior year of high school, Ekanem was one of Tech’s top prospects. He was the No. 5 player in the state according to ESPN. Then in the state championship, he tore his ACL and his meniscus.
Ekanem said the injury really affected his first year at Tech.
“It sucked,” Ekanem said. “I had all these high expectations coming in, I was one of the top recruits in my class and then I got here and I was just limping around and playing really slow. The coaches were like ‘what the hell who is this guy, we didn’t recruit this guy.’”
He ended up taking a redshirt year.
The next spring Ekanem was feeling better and ready to start living up to expectations when he tore his meniscus again.
Ekanem recovered in the summer and was ready to come back and play in the game against Pittsburgh.
In his first game back against the Panthers, he pulled his right hamstring. Two games later he came back for the Duke game and pulled his left hamstring. Two weeks later he tweaked the right hamstring again.
Being sidelined over and over again did not sit well with Ekanem.
“It was really aggravating, I just wanted to be out on the field and do something, just do my part,” Ekanem said.
Despite all the injuries, Ekanem was able to play in 11 games. He saw 76 snaps, 69 of them on special teams and seven at defensive end. He recorded three tackles on the season.
Now he says that he is feeling about 99 percent.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Ekanem said. “It is two years late but I’m here now ... I’m just trying to stay healthy, get in the cold tub, my legs aren’t hurting. I’m trying to keep my body right.”
This fall Ekanem expects to start and warns opposing players not to sleep on him.
“If you sleep on me I’ll set your alarm clock early one hour,” Ekanem said.
Defensive line coach Charley Wiles has been happy with Ekanem’s progress.
“I’ve been really pleased with Ken,” Wiles said. “The overall maturity he is playing with and the experience of being in the room, he’s a smart guy. Ken right now is stepping up I’m hopeful that he will continue this surge and just finish the spring very, very strong.“
Ekanem will be competing against Seth Dooley to take the spot James Gayle left vacant. He feels it’s his spot to lose and that he is at the top of his game.
“When I first got here I was putting my knee first instead of just playing first — now I’m getting off on the ball, have a lot quicker twitch and am just being destructive,” Ekanem said.
The Hokies are counting on Ekanem to live up to the potential he showed as a high school senior.