This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: Ikem "Ickey" Ekwonu
Position: Offensive Lineman
School: North Carolina State
Height/Weight: 6-4, 310
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Below is a portion of Deep Sidhu's interview with David Thompson, who covers the NC State athletics for USA Today.
Sidhu: One of the first things I read about Ickey was that he's "the most feared lineman in the ACC," according to some writers. What are the strengths of his game and what did he do to really earn that moniker?
Thompson: You know, it's always funny to hear that because I've talked to him a lot off the field and he's just like the gentlest, sweetest, funny guy, likes to prank his roommates. But when he gets on the field, and I think you see this with the top prospects, the best guys in the league, it's a switch that flips, right? And he just kind of likes to, I don't want to say hurt people, but he likes to put people on the ground. His big thing at NC State was pancakes, and after every pancake, the coaching staff would give him a bottle of syrup and I think he left a ridiculous amount of syrup that. We always talked about it like, 'What are you going to do with all that syrup?' He's like, 'I can't eat that many pancakes.' I think he was donating syrup bottles to people.
But I think and you saw it on the Combine just how quick he is and how strong he is and just that skillset. There are the intangibles, right? The size, the stuff that you can't coach. But I think his mental fortitude, as well as his quickness and strength, is just going to make him one of those potential 10 to 12-year Pro Bowl guys that that are really kind of a foundation of an offensive line and potentially a team like the Texans that are really trying to rebuild from the ground up.
Sidhu: A lot of people think that Ekwonu might have made the case to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft with his Combine performance. How much do you think that did help his draft stock with teams seeing him in person, talking to him, going through the interviews at the Combine?
Thompson: For these teams that are normally the first one through 10 slot, they're either looking for a quarterback or they're looking for someone to protect their quarterback. And he's that guy, he was that guy at NC State. I think, in his four years, he allowed one sack his entire career. So that's the guy you want protecting your quarterback's weak side. With the speed and strength with opposing defensive ends and guys coming around the corner, you want someone who can match that and then I think you also want someone who on the line is smart enough to understand the calls, the reads and be able to change quickly to be able to audible. And he just he has those mental and physical strengths that I think people are looking for.
Sidhu: I thought his media availability at the combine was just one of the most entertaining. He really went viral for just talking about his love of musical theater. I feel like it really gave everyone a sense of his personality, how much fun he is. You've gotten a chance to cover him and see that side of his personality. What else have you learned about him, personally speaking, in your time covering him?
Thompson: I think that that was one of the great things. To imagine that kid, a very large fifth grader, being in "The Jungle Book," "The Aristocrats." I think one of the great things that me and him had in common in high school was that we both sold Cutco knives. Oh, I, I lasted about a month. He was their top salesman for like three summers in a row. Yea, so he's that kind of guy. He also made a lot of money with like Bitcoin and things like that. He's an investor, he's smart, he studies business administration. Whatever kind of money he gets, he's going to figure out how to make more. That money will make money. And then also, he's a big time prankster and he liked to prank his roommate, his roommates and stuff like that.
All the guys around him that I talked to would just say like, it's just a lot of laughter, a lot of fun and he didn't big-time anyone. He was just a kid who really enjoyed the experience and loved his team and they loved him back. And of course, his quarterback loved him because he stayed off the ground because of him.
Sidhu: It seems like everything has come very easy to him and very naturally to Ekwonu. Is there some instance of adversity that he's gone through that you saw him come out of the at the other end?
Thompson: Well, sure. I mean, in high school, it was his twin brother, Osita, who was the big man on campus. Osita was a four-star linebacker and was really kind of the reason it he (Ickey) ended up getting looks because everyone was coming to see his brother. His brother ended up going to Notre Dame and has done OK, obviously not shined in the way that his brother did. But I think that adversity of being overlooked, of kind of being like, 'You're the other brother' really stuck with him, really motivated him.
(To hear Thompson's exclusive 1-on-1 with Ekwonu on the "BLeave in NC State" podcast, click here.)