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Once Rivals, Metellus & Willekes Now Thrilled to be Vikings Teammates

EAGAN, Minn. — Josh Metellus and Kenny Willekes can joke about the rivalry now that they are teammates in the NFL.

But for the past few seasons, it was serious business when their college teams squared off.

Metellus and Willekes are a pair of 15 Vikings draft picks on the roster. Metellus, who played safety at Michigan, was a sixth-round selection. Willekes, a former Michigan State defensive end, was picked in the seventh round.

The former college rivals recently caught up with Gabe Henderson of for a Rookie Mini-Chat, with the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry at the forefront of the conversation.

"They were intense," Metellus said of the annual games. "I can go back to my freshman year when we played them at their house and it was my first time in a real rivalry game. I felt like it was super intense, and that it builds upon the years.

"The more you know and the more my freshman class got older, the more we kept going against the same guys," Metellus added. "It just felt like it kept getting more awesome."

Added Willekes: "Growing up in the state of Michigan, you always hear about the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. There's so much weight on it, because if you lose, you have to hear about it for a year. There's bragging rights for an entire year. So, when you go back home, if your friends and family are Michigan fans, they're going to let you hear it. That game, I say it's a backyard brawl. They obviously don't like us and we don't like them on the field. We go at it. It's a lot of fun to play in, to be honest."

Speaking of bragging rights between the two, Metellus holds those honors as the Wolverines topped the Spartans in three of the past four seasons.

But even though the two defensive players did all the could to help their respective teams, the duo also noted the respect they had for the other side, and one another.

"I know a lot of the guys on offense on my team, especially on the O-line who I'm real cool with, they had to face him," Metellus said. "I heard in practice, 'Well you can't do that, because if Kenny does that then it will be a sack.'

"I've always known about him and he's one of the best players in the Big Ten," Metellus added. "You hear about him on social media as well."

Willekes said: "I appreciate that, my guy. We talked about him a lot when breaking down the defense. I lived with Brian Lewerke … the [starting] quarterback, obviously … and he was always talking to us about their team and where he can and can't throw. [Josh] came up in conversation and we talked about it a lot."

Metellus played in 47 career games for the Wolverines, making 38 starts. He received First-Team All-Big Ten honors from the Associated Press in 2018.

In 13 starts last season, Metellus recorded 74 tackles, including 4.0 for loss. He also snagged two interceptions and added five passes defensed and a fumble recovery.

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.

View images of Vikings new DE Kenny Willekes from his days at MSU.

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

Metellus and Willekes also chatted with Henderson on their unique beginning to the league, which has been entirely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I feel like it's the best they could make it," Metellus said. "The league is doing their best job trying to make us feel as comfortable as possible with this big switch in our lives.

"I know our team, we're doing a great job — even though we're not together — of getting to know everybody and learn faces and stuff like that," Metellus added.

View images of Vikings new S Josh Metellus from his days at Michigan.

Added Willekes: "Obviously it's been different and a little difficult, but I think the Vikings and the NFL as a whole have done a good job of adapting. With the video calls, they keep it pretty interactive asking us questions and making us turn on our cameras so we can get to know our teammates and talk to them a little bit."

The duo also touched on what they have been up to outside of football over the past six weeks, and answered various trivia questions about the other.

Metellus and Willekes are two of nine defensive players who were drafted as part of the Vikings 2020 class.