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Kenny Willekes Named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio presents Kenny Willekes with the Most Valuable Player award at Michigan State’s annual banquet on Sunday, Nov. 25 at the Kellogg Center. (PHOTO: Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio presents Kenny Willekes with the Most Valuable Player award at Michigan State’s annual banquet on Sunday, Nov. 25 at the Kellogg Center. (PHOTO: Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

EAST LANSING, Mich. – After leading the Big Ten with 20.5 tackles for loss during the regular season, Michigan State junior defensive end Kenny Willekes has been named the 2018 Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year. Willekes is the second Spartan to win the award (Shilique Calhoun in 2013), which is named after MSU's Bubba Smith and Penn State's Courtney Brown and given to the Big Ten's most outstanding defensive lineman.

Willekes was also named to the All-Big Ten First Team by the coaches and media, while junior linebacker Joe Bachie was a first-team selection by the coaches and sophomore placekicker Matt Coghlin was a first-team honoree by the media. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has produced 40 first-team All-Big Ten selections during his 12-year tenure in East Lansing.

Other Big Ten honorees include junior cornerback Justin Layne (second team, coaches and media), junior nose tackle Raequan Williams (third team, coaches and media), senior safety Khari Willis (third team, media; honorable mention, coaches), junior safety David Dowell (third team, coaches; honorable mention, media), senior wide receiver Felton Davis III (honorable mention, coaches and media), senior linebacker Andrew Dowell (honorable mention, coaches and media), junior defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk (honorable mention, coaches and media) and sophomore kick returner Connor Heyward (honorable mention, media).

Overall, eight players from MSU's defense, which ranks No. 1 in the FBS in rushing defense and No. 14 in scoring and total defense, earned All-Big Ten honors.


First Team: DE Kenny Willekes, LB Joe Bachie
Second Team: CB Justin Layne
Third Team: NT Raequan Williams, S David Dowell, PK Matt Coghlin
Honorable Mention: WR Felton Davis III, LB Andrew Dowell, DT Mike Panasiuk, S Khari Willis

First Team: DE Kenny Willekes, PK Matt Coghlin
Second Team: LB Joe Bachie, CB Justin Layne
Third Team: NT Raequan Williams, S Khari Willis
Honorable Mention: WR Felton Davis III, LB Andrew Dowell, S David Dowell, DT Mike Panasiuk, KR Connor Heyward

Complete All-Big Ten Teams

Jr. DE Kenny Willekes (first team, coaches and media)
A 6-4, 260-pound native of Rockford, Michigan, Kenny Willekes has collected a league-best 20.5 tackles for loss, good for second most in a Spartan single season and seventh most in the FBS in 2018. He also leads the Spartans with 8.5 sacks, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten and tied for 25th in the FBS. The junior has registered a career-high 76 tackles to rank first among all conference defensive lineman, including a career-high 13 against Ohio State on Nov. 3.

Willekes was credited with a tackle for loss in 10 of MSU's 12 games, including a career-high 3.5 against Ohio State and Nebraska in back-to-back games. He opened the season with six tackles, two sacks (19 yards) and a forced fumble in the win over Utah State, and also posted multiple TFLs against Indiana (2.0), Michigan (2.0) and Maryland (2.5).

According to Pro Football Focus, Willekes is the third-highest graded 4-3 defensive end in the FBS, leads all edge rushers with 20 quarterback hits, and ranks tied for sixth with 37 QB hurries.

Willekes becomes the seventh Spartan to win a Big Ten position player of the year award since the conference began awarding them in 2011 (Calhoun, defensive lineman of the year in 2013; Darqueze Dennard and Kurtis Drummond, defensive back of the year in 2013 and 2014; Tony Lippett and Aaron Burbridge, receiver of the year in 2014 and 2015; Connor Cook, quarterback of the year in 2015).

At the Spartan Football Awards banquet on Nov. 25, Willekes was named the recipient of the Governor's Award (MVP), becoming the first Spartan defensive end to win the honor since its inception in 1931.

Willekes is MSU's active leader in tackles for loss (tied for ninth overall in school history with 35.0) and sacks (10th in school history with 15.5).

Jr. LB Joe Bachie (first team, coaches; second team, media)
Joe Bachie is the third middle linebacker to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors under Dantonio, joining Greg Jones and Max Bullough. The 6-2, 238-pounder from Brook Park, Ohio, leads the team and ranks tied for 10th in the conference with 94 tackles (7.8 avg.). Bachie was a second-team choice by the media.

Voted a captain by his teammates, Bachie helped lead a defense that ranks No. 1 in the FBS in rushing defense, No. 14 in scoring defense and No. 14 in total defense. He has 8.5 tackles for loss, five pass break-ups, three forced fumbles, one interception and one fumble recovery, and was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following his performance at Maryland (seven tackles, two TFLs, three forced fumbles).

In the season opener against Utah State and with MSU holding on to a 38-31 lead late in the fourth quarter, Bachie sealed the win by batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage, then coming up with the interception. He has recorded double-digits in tackles four times this season (11 vs. Utah State; 10 vs. Arizona State; 10 vs. Michigan; 12 vs. Rutgers).

In 31 career games, including 25 consecutive starts, Bachie has 206 tackles, 19.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions, seven pass break-ups, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He has recorded double-digits in tackles nine times in his career.

So. PK Matt Coghlin (first team, media; third team, coaches)
A Lou Groza Award semifinalist, Matt Coghlin ranks among Big Ten leaders in field goals made (third with 16), field-goal percentage (third at .842) and scoring (ninth at 7.0 ppg). He has made 16 of his 19 field-goal attempts this season (5-of-5 from 20-29 yards; 7-of-8 from 30-39 yards; 4-of-5 from 40-49 yards; 0-1 from 50-plus yards).

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Coghlin was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week against Indiana after he scored on a 6-yard TD run on a fake field goal in the third quarter and made all five of his point-after attempts. He became the first Spartan to score an offensive touchdown and then kick the PAT on his own TD since Sam Williams in 1958 against Wisconsin.

Coghlin opened the season with three field goals in the win over Utah State, including a season-long 49-yarder, and also had multiple field-goal outings against Arizona State (2), Northwestern (2), Purdue (3), Ohio State (2) and Nebraska (2). He set a new school record with 18 consecutive field goals, dating back to last season, before a kick was blocked in the Purdue game. That streak was also tied for the fourth longest in Big Ten history.

Coghlin becomes the sixth Spartan placekicker to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, and the third under Dantonio (Brett Swenson in 2009; Dan Conroy in 2012). The Cincinnati, Ohio, native currently ranks first in MSU history in field-goal percentage (31-of-38, .816).

Jr. CB Justin Layne (second team, coaches and media)
Justin Layne, who earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore, was named to the second team in 2018 by both the coaches and media. Layne ranks tied for first in the Big Ten and fifth in the FBS with 15 pass break-ups. He has also posted career highs in tackles (72) and tackles for loss (2.5) this season.

The 6-3, 185-pound Layne played both offense and defense in the win over Purdue on Oct. 27. Layne tallied a career-high four pass break-ups and registered seven tackles in playing 64 defensive snaps against the Boilermakers, and caught one pass for 11 yards and was targeted four times in 16 offensive snaps. He was named to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week for his performance vs. Purdue. Layne had four pass break-ups, 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a half sack vs. No. 10 Ohio State, and recorded an interception in the win over Central Michigan.

Jr. NT Raequan Williams (third team, coaches and media)
Raequan Williams, who has started 28 consecutive games at nose tackle, earned third-team All-Big Ten accolades after his best regular season wearing the Green and White. The Chicago, Illinois, product has recorded career bests in tackles (49), tackles for loss (9.5) and pass break-ups (5), while helping anchor the nation's No. 1 run defense.

Williams ranks second among active Spartans with 20.5 career tackles for loss, including six sacks, in 36 career games.

Sr. S Khari Willis (third team, media; honorable mention, coaches)
Khari Willis is having his best year as a Spartan, recording career highs in tackles (81) and pass break-ups (8) and tying a career high with two interceptions. Willis was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after leading the Spartans with nine tackles, including seven solo stops, in MSU's 21-17 win at No. 8 Penn State on Oct. 13. The Jackson, Michigan, native also forced a fumble on PSU quarterback Trace McSorley in the first quarter, and recorded his fifth pass break-up of the season later in the game. Willis had a career-high 15 tackles vs. Ohio State and recorded interceptions against Utah State and Northwestern.

Voted a captain by his teammates in 2018, Willis has 193 tackles, 14 pass break-ups and four interceptions in 45 career games, including 29 starts.

Willis was also named MSU's Big Ten Sportmanship Award honoree.

Jr. S David Dowell (third team, coaches; honorable mention, media)
David Dowell picked up third-team accolades by the coaches after tallying 55 tackles, two interceptions and two pass break-ups in 12 starts. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media as a sophomore in 2017 (five interceptions, 52 tackles, four pass break-ups).

Dowell had a season-high eight stops against Michigan and recorded interceptions against Central Michigan and Purdue.

Sr. WR Felton Davis III (honorable mention, coaches and media)
Felton Davis III was one of the top receivers in the Big Ten before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the seventh game of the season vs. Michigan on Oct. 20. He caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 19 seconds left at No. 8 Penn State on Oct. 13 and had eight catches for 100 yards and two TDs in the win over the Nittany Lions.

Although he missed the last five games of the season, Davis still ranked among the Big Ten regular-season leaders in receiving yards per game (67.7 ypg) and receptions (4.4 pg). He had 31 catches for 474 yards and four TDs in seven games this season.

Davis leaves the Spartan program as one of 29 Spartans in school history with 100 career receptions, and ranks 11thin school history with 14 TD catches and 26th with 1,450 receiving yards.

Sr. LB Andrew Dowell (honorable mention, coaches and media)
Andrew Dowell earned his first career Big Ten honors with an outstanding senior season. Dowell ranks second on the team with a career-high 90 tackles and also has collected career bests in tackles for loss (8.0), sacks (3.0) and pass break-ups (8). He posted double-digit stops in three games, including a career-high 14 vs. Ohio State on Nov. 10. The 6-1, 225-pound native of North Ridgeville, Ohio, had three multiple-TFL games (2.0 each vs. Arizona State, Indiana and Michigan) and produced a career-high two sacks at Indiana.

Dowell leads all active Spartans with 253 tackles in 50 career games, including 28 consecutive starts (33 overall).

Jr. DT Mike Panasiuk (honorable mention, coaches and media)
Mike Panasiuk, a stalwart on the Spartan defensive line with 28 straight starts at defensive tackle, was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for the second year in a row. Panasiuk's numbers are hard to measure in terms of impact, but the Roselle, Illinois, native is a big reason why MSU ranks No. 1 in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing just 81.3 yards per game. Panasiuk has a career-high 4.5 tackles for loss this season and two pass break-ups, and leads the Spartan defensive tackles unit and ranks third overall on the team in production points. He recorded an interception and blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter in the victory over Purdue.

In 37 career games, Panasiuk has 62 tackles, including 7.5 for losses with one sack.

So. KR Connor Heyward (honorable mention, media)
Connor Heyward, who was named one of five finalists for the Paul Hornung Award (nation's most versatile player), leads MSU in all-purpose yards (1,056), rushing yards (520), rushing TDs (5) and kick returns (287), while ranking third with 32 receptions for 249 yards. He was named Michigan State's Downtown Coaches Club Most Outstanding Offensive Player at the team's annual awards banquet on Nov. 25.

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