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5 Things to Know About New Vikings Defensive End Kenny Willekes

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings selected a quartet of defensive players in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft, starting with defensive end Kenny Willekes.

The former Michigan State standout was the 225th overall pick in the draft.

Here are five things to know about Willekes.

1. Bringing home the Burlsworth

Willekes won the 2019 Burlsworth Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's best player who was a former walk-on.

Willekes was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection and Michigan State's Team MVP in his redshirt senior for the Spartans. He is listed at 6-foot-3 and 264 pounds.

ESPN Senior NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., said Willekes will fit right in with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's blue-collar system.

"He'll have to battle his way onto that roster," Kiper said. "I think you look at a guy, a classic overachiever. He doesn't have long arms … but he has that knack for getting after the quarterback.

"He anticipates that snap and wants to beat that offensive tackle out of his stance, and he does it a decent amount of times," Kiper added. "He's the kind of guy I wouldn't want to bet against because he's overcome the odds and became a heck of a player at Michigan State for the Spartans."

2. TFL king

Willekes recorded 78 tackles with 10.5 sacks and 16.0 tackles for loss in 2019 as he earned Second-Team All-American honors by Walter Camp.

That brought Willekes' career tackles-for loss total to 51, which is a Michigan State record. He also tallied 14.5 tackles for loss in 2017 before adding 20.5 in 2018.

Willekes was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection and Michigan State's Team MVP as a redshirt junior in 2018.

"I'd say it was part of our scheme at Michigan State," Willekes said of his tackles for loss. "They allowed me to be a little bit of a free player, and they stunted me a lot inside, something we worked on every day with [defensive ends coach Chuck Bullough] – our one-gap footwork, our two-gap footwork.

"It was something we focused on every day." Willekes added. "When I got the ability to do it in games and they gave me the opportunity to stunt, I was able to get in there and make plays."

Willekes also ranks third in program history with 26.0 career sacks.

3. Cool with Cousins

Willekes is one of three former Spartans on Minnesota's roster (currently 87 players).

One is guard Tyler Higby, an 2019 undrafted free agent, while the other, of course, is starting quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Willekes said he attended one of Cousins' 7-on-7 passing camps when he was in high school. Cousins has hosted annual camps at Holland Christian High School, his alma mater.

"He's definitely a Michigan State legend," Willekes said of Cousins. "He kind of set the path, showed the way from Michigan State to the NFL, and not only that, but he's also from West Michigan.

"So, having the opportunity to play with him in Minnesota's kind of like a dream come true," added Willekes, who grew up in Grand Rapids. "He's someone I looked up to a lot growing up."

4. Quite the talented family

Willekes is the fifth among eight total children in a talented and large family.

His father, Charles, is a cardiothoracic surgeon, which focuses on the heart, lungs and other organs in the chest.

Willekes' older brother, Lourens, is an Olympic-level trampoline gymnast. Lourens Willekes was one of 22 gymnasts who took part in the 2020 U.S. Trampoline & Tumbling Senior National Team Training Camp in February.

It turns out that Kenny is pretty flexible, too. He showcased some of his movements in this video:

And Willekes' sister, Allison, is a concert pianist. She was involved with the local symphony before she finished college.

5. Two-way, and two-sport, star

Willekes was a standout on the gridiron at NorthPointe Christian, especially during his senior season.

He was a First-Team All-State selection as a linebacker, as he recorded 162 tackles, including 6.5 sacks in 2015. But he was an Honorable Mention All-State pick as a running back the same season when he tallied 1,400-plus rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

He led the Mustangs to an 11-2 record and a trip to the semifinals of the state tournament.

Willekes did bring a championship home to NorthPointe Christian in a different sport as a senior, as he led the school to the Division 1 rugby title in 2014. He scored the game-winning try and was named the championship game's most valuable player.