The Wolfpacker

July-August 2022

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 45 of 59

46 ■ THE WOLFPACKER Ekwonu is already a 340-pound uni- corn — an offensive lineman who is fast on his feet and likes to put opponents flat on their backs. In his three years with the Wolfpack, he learned to excel as an individual, but also to perform in an en- semble cast — just as he did when partic- ipating in musical theater, honors chorus and his Boy Scout troop. "It's something I learned when I first played offensive line in high school," Ekwonu said. Through the years, the behemoth tackle has matured from an all-time eater into the Pancake Champion of the World — or at least the champ of NC State, where offensive linemen are rewarded with a bottle of maple syrup every time they knock an opponent off their feet. Over the course of nearly 2,285 of- fensive snaps in three seasons, Ekwonu earned enough syrup from 154 such hits to send his glucose numbers off the charts. If the IHOP — formerly known as the International House of Pancakes — on Raleigh's Hillsborough Street hadn't shut down during the pandemic, it would have been a natural choice for him to sign one of those NIL deals so popular in to- day's world of college athletics. Maybe it's good, then, that one of his first orders of business after being taken as the No. 6 pick in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft by his hometown Char- lotte Panthers and signing a contract worth nearly $27.6 million was to hire a personal chef to prepare all his future meals. "In the NFL, people keep telling me, your body is your business," Ekwonu said. "You had better take care of it." Still, Ekwonu plays the game with a certain kind of physical violence, some- thing that might be expected more from a raging linebacker than a hulking lineman. "If I'm not playing with violence, if I'm not playing my hardest, I can't look my teammates in the eyes," he said. "I have to go all out. I have to do everything I can to win." As a junior with the Wolfpack, Ekwonu bulldozed his way to first-team AP All- America honors and the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy, and was one of three fi- nalists for the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation's best lineman. When he announced he was forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the draft, there was lingering talk that he might be the first overall player taken, something that has happened only once in the history of Wolfpack football, when defensive end Mario Williams was cho- Ekwonu became the first NC State player ever to be drafted by the NFL's Carolina Panthers when he was selected sixth overall in April. PHOTO BY ETHAN HYMAN, THE NEWS & OBSERVER TEAM PLAYER Ikem Ekwonu Understands The Importance Of Collaboration MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR IKEM EKWONU BY TIM PEELER hat if NC State football made the significant transition from #QBU to #QBProtectorU? Over the past two decades, the Wolfpack has sent plenty of signal-callers to the NFL, with perhaps another one, Devin Leary, joining them next year. But it has sent blessed few offensive linemen. That's the opportunity NC State 2021-22 Male Athlete of the Year Ikem Ekwonu has in front of him, to succeed in a way that few other former Wolfpack trenchmen have done at the professional level. W

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