Ekwonu Comfortable With Move to Guard
Coach Dave Doeren and his NC State football staff worked as many players as possible at multiple positions this preseason as a hedge against possible coronavirus losses.
It's a strategy that has also allowed the Wolfpack to put as many of its best players onto the field at the same time.
Case in point: The offensive line.
As a result of the cross-training effort, Doeren and line coach John Garrison have been able to shift tackle Ickey Ekwonu over to guard to make room for graduate tackle Tyrone Riley, who missed all last season with a foot injury.
"(Ekwonu) was a guard in high school, so it’s a position he’s played," Doeren said in a virtual media conference earlier this week. "For us to be able to get our top five out there, we felt that having Tyrone and Ikem on the left allowed us to have that. You see (Justin) Witt and Joe (Sculthorpe) on the right and then Grant (Gibson) at center.
And then behind those guys, we’ve got some depth where we can rotate on the O-Line. Ikem can always bounce back out to left tackle if Tyrone gets tired. Tim McKay’s had a great camp for us too and he’s a guy that we expect to see. So there’s some rotation that will happen throughout the game."
Ekwonu, a 6-foot-4, 325-pound sophomore was one of the surprises during a disappointing 2019 season.
Despite enrolling just before the start of preseason camp, he proved to be a fast learner and catapulted quickly up State's depth chart. He played 19 snaps in his first college game, the season opener against East Carolina and 50 the next week against Western Carolina.
By game six, he was a starter at left tackle. It was a position he never relinquished on his way to earning Freshman All-American honors by the Football Writers Association of America.
As little trouble as Ekwonu had in making such a smooth transition from high school to college, moving over one spot on the offensive line has been a piece of cake by comparison.
“I played guard in high school. I'm confident in guard,” he said. "I like guard a lot so the transition I'm just, wherever the team wanted me to play, I was ready to play.
"It also goes to Coach Garrison's leadership because tackle and guard are different positions. Just getting me ready to play at guard on the college level is something he helped me with."
Although Ekwonu is the youngest and least experienced member of a unit that includes a sixth-year veteran, two fifth-year seniors and a junior who started every game a year ago, he said he doesn't feel pressure to live up to a standard set by his older linemates.
“Pressure doesn't really affect me much," he said. "I think that stems from my wrestling background. In the sport of wrestling, it's very much one-on-one, man-on-man. Everything you do on that mat is seen by everybody, so growing up with that I just felt pressure in situations like that just fade away.
"It’s really easy not to feel pressure when you’re confident, and I am confident in the guys around me, the game plan, all the coaches,” he said. “I know they have put us all in a spot to be successful. When you have confidence from all over, it’s really easy to not feel pressure.”
Ekwonu doesn't just have confidence in himself. Because of the depth, experience and versatlity around him, he believes that State's offensive line will prove to be among the best in the ACC this season.
"(There's) a lot of guys that can play," the Charlotte native said. "It's a lot of different lineups we can use. I really think the ceiling and the potential for the o-line moving forward is really high. I'm really excited about the group of guys I have and to prove everybody wrong."
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