Arnold Ebiketie might have surprised Penn State football fans and Wisconsin with his performance last Saturday, but his coaches and teammates knew months ago that he was special.
“Since the first rep I’ve seen Arnold take, I knew he was going to be a monster,” Nittany Lions safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “He’s extremely fast and extremely light on his feet. He has a hunger to him that you don’t really see out of most D-linemen.”
Ebiketie made seven solo tackles, including two for losses, and blocked a field goal in his first game for Penn State, a 16-10 victory over the Badgers.
“I think overall I had a good game, but I also know there’s always some adjustment I can make to have a better game this week,” he said. “I’m trying to work on some of the details so I can take my game to an even higher level.”
Ebiketie and the defense expect a challenge from Ball State (1-0) and quarterback Drew Plitt when 11th-ranked Penn State faces the Cardinals Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (TV-FS1, WEEU-AM/830) before more than 100,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.
Plitt threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns to wide receiver Justin Hall, who caught eight passes for 137 yards, in a 31-21 victory over Western Illinois.
The Lions constantly pressured Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, forcing him into two intentional grounding penalties and hurrying him several other times. They allowed one gain of more than 20 yards.
Ebiketie set the tone by dropping running back Chez Mellusi for a 4-yard loss on Wisconsin’s first snap.
A 6-3, 256-pound defensive end, Ebiketie, also known as AK, spent four seasons at Temple before enrolling at Penn State in January as a graduate transfer.
Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. said the Lions knew that Ebiketie would impact the defense not long after he arrived on campus.
“Everybody knew he was gonna be a force when he stepped in the building,” Porter said. “He’s just a great athlete. We knew that once he got the playbook down, he was just gonna be a freak of nature.”
Penn State center Mike Miranda, who’s not exactly verbose, was effusive in his praise when he recalled the first time Ebiketie drilled against the offensive line in spring practice.
“I knew he’d be good probably the first time we did one-on-ones and I saw his get-off in pass rushing,” Miranda said. “That was it right there. I just remember seeing just how sudden the get-off was and how he was able to bend and accelerate through his rush.
“It was pretty clear right away that he could move a little bit differently than anybody else.”
Ebiketie was born in Cameroon and grew up in Maryland. He didn’t play much his first two seasons at Temple before joining the defensive line rotation in 2019 and becoming a starter last year, when he was named to the All-American Athletic Conference second team.
He decided to transfer, he said, to play in a Power Five conference and to improve his game.
“I had accomplished a lot for Temple,” Ebiketie said. “I’m a big competitor. I’m always looking for more. I felt like it would be best for me to enter the transfer portal and go to a place where I could compete and expand my game a little bit going against some other guys playing at a high level.”
Penn State defensive line coach John Scott Jr. studied videotape of Ebiketie at Temple. As soon as he saw him in person, he knew the Lions had found an answer at defensive end after losing Odafe Oweh and Shaka Toney to the NFL.
“He was dominant at Temple,” Scott said. “I remember my eyes opened the first time I saw him (at spring practice). I saw how quick he could pick his feet up, move through the bags and his acceleration and bend coming out of the bags. That was impressive.
“The first time he went one-on-one against our (offensive) guys in full pads, you saw him get off the ball and how much ground that he made up quickly. It doesn’t take very long to see this guy’s athleticism and his explosiveness.”
Scott said that Ebiketie listens well and studies the game, two qualities that will lift his game even further.
“As he gets more comfortable with what we’re doing on defense, I think you can see this guy continue to skyrocket,” Scott said. “AK doesn’t say a whole lot and comes into the building with a smile. But when he steps on that grass, man, it’s competitive. It’s 100%.
“We knew (in the spring) this guy had some juice in him.”
Brown said he believes Ebiketie is the best defensive end in the Big Ten. Only time will tell that. But AK knows he made the right choice.
“I always knew Penn State as a whole was a great organization,” he said. “I’m definitely pleased. I just think I made one of the best decisions in my life to come to Penn State.”
Source: Berkshire mont