Ebiketie Making A Dfference For Nittany Lions

December 25, 2021

Ebiketie Making A Dfference For Nittany Lions

By Joey Johnston

Last New Year's Eve, the Penn State Nittany Lions were turning the page after a disappointing bowl-less season. It was hard to imagine that such a key performer, defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, was about to drop into their laps through the transfer portal.

Now it's hard to imagine Penn State's defense without Ebiketie.

"Arnold has certainly made an impact,'' Penn State coach James Franklin said.

A huge impact at that. As the Nittany Lions (7-5) prepare to face the SEC's Arkansas Razorbacks (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, they will rely on Ebiketie, a first-team All-Big Ten Conference performer who had 9.5 sacks and a league-leading 17 tackles for a loss.

"You have to account for that guy,'' Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. "He's quick and strong. You have to know where he is.''

For the four seasons prior to 2021, Ebiketie was at Temple University in the American Athletic Conference. He landed at Temple after high-school ball in Kensington, Md., where he played linebacker and even slot receiver. But it was thought that he didn't have the size or skill to play in a Power 5 conference.

Sure enough, his development was measured. He played sparingly in his first three seasons with the Owls, then became a starting defensive end as a redshirt junior, becoming Temple's leader in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. After earning second-team All-AAC honors, he jumped into the transfer portal and was contacted by a place he once could only dream about.

Penn State.

"I always knew Penn State as a whole was a great organization,'' Ebiketie told reporters earlier this season. "One of my main focuses in the portal was trying to figure out what place was going to be the best fit for me in terms of what matches the top of my playing style.

"When I look back on it, I made one of the best decisions of my life to come to Penn State.''

Ebiketie, 6-foot-3, added 20 pounds to his frame during the offseason, transforming himself into a large, mobile force on the edge.

How would he fit in? Ebiketie answered that quickly. In Penn State's first game this season, a 16-10 victory at Wisconsin, Ebiketie had seven tackles (two for a loss), one sack and a blocked field goal.

"He comes to practice every day and gives you everything he's got,'' Penn State offensive tackle Rasheed Walker said earlier this season. "I feel like that helped me develop this offseason. When you're blocking someone that fast every day, it forces you to play faster. I don't think I'm going to see anybody in the Big Ten who can move like AK.''

Ebiketie is a big reason why Penn State ranks seventh in scoring defense (16.75 points per game, 21 touchdowns allowed), along with 36th in total defense (344.3 yards). He will be needed to disrupt an Arkansas offense led by quarterback KJ Jefferson, a 245-pounder.

Ebiketie will take on the task like he handles all his other football chores - with a super attitude, work ethic and a winning smile.

"He doesn't say a lot, but he's always smiling,'' Franklin said. "When he steps on the field, he's a competitor. He has added a lot to our program. We're very glad he is here with us.''

Last New Year's Eve, who could've imagined it?