Arnold Ebiketie didn’t take to “America’s Game” as early as most of his fellow NFL combine participants did.
That’s because he wasn’t born in America.
Ebiketie was born in Yaounde, Cameroon, and, as most who grew up in Africa or anywhere outside North America do, he took up soccer as his first sporting love.
At 13, Ebiketie came to the States. His father’s job brought 13-year-old Arnold to the States at 13.
As a high school sophomore, Ebiketie took up football, and the change has worked out well.
After a successful career at Albert Einstein High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, Ebiketie moved to Temple University, where he played from 2017-20 and earned a degree.
Although he had a successful career at Temple, earning second-team All-AAC honors in 2020, Ebiketie fully blossomed in his lone season at Penn State.
He finished second in the Big Ten in sacks (9.5) and second in tackles for loss (18), earning first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Now, more than three months removed from his last college game and less than two months away from being drafted, Ebiketie has had time to reflect and credits Penn State’s support system for his rise.
(Defensive line coach John) Scott, (graduate assistant) Deion Barnes, those guys, they kind of helped me put together some of the pieces that I was missing into my game,” Ebiketie told reporters in his NFL combine press conference. “And I think, once I got that, I kind of put everything together. That’s where the production came from.”
Along with on-field coaches, Ebiketie credited now-retired Strength and Conditioning coach Dwight Galt III and current Strength and Conditioning coach Chuck Losey for his success. Ebiketie also hopes to follow in the footsteps of Penn Staters such as Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki, who impressed at past combines with their strength.
“Being in there, you know you’re going to have to work,” Ebiketie said. “You’re going to have to put the work in. That’s where the results come from. Deege Galt, coach Losey, those guys, they’re going to push you. They’re going to bring the best out of you. So, I’m grateful I was able to go through that and have those guys in my corner, and now I feel like I’m a way better player going in.”
Although he had support, Ebiketie had to put in the work himself to do as well as he did this past season.
Coming into a new school with new teammates and playing under a new defensive coordinator could take a while to get used to, but Ebiketie fit in right away.
In Penn State’s season opener at Wisconsin, Ebiketie blocked a field goal, picked up a sack and caused a turnover with quarterback pressure.
It only got better from there.
“I believe I’m a fast learner, and if it comes down to wanting to put extra work into learning the playbook, learning the scheme (I can do it),” Ebiketie said. “It’s not going to come naturally right away, and you have to take extra time out of what you’re doing on the field with the team, and that’s what I did. I wanted to be comfortable with the scheme, comfortable with the system, getting to the point where it’s kind of second nature for me.”
In high school, Ebiketie was a linebacker and wide receiver. He continued to play linebacker through his first season at Temple before moving to defensive end, where he’s found a niche.
Although Ebiketie has gotten comfortable as a pass rusher off the edge, he feels he can play elsewhere if needed.
“I think I’m versatile enough to play different positions,” he said. “If they need me to drop in coverage or if they need me to be in a 4-3 system where I have to rush most of the time. So, it will depend on what system I’m in. I think I feel comfortable doing a little bit of everything.”
Although he says he’d be ok at another position, the three players Ebiketie said he admires and tries to learn from are all edge rushers; Vonn Miller, who is a surefire Hall of Famer, TJ Watt, who recently won NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Nick Bosa, who’s been selected to the Pro Bowl in both of his full NFL seasons.
“Just trying to take a little bit of everything from those guys and incorporate it into my game,” Ebiketie said.
Ebiketie’s workout day is tomorrow. While he’ll be looking to impress organizations as much as possible, he’ll also try his best to take time to bask in it all.
The kid from Cameroon is on the verge of being drafted.
“For a long time, I watched the combine on TV and actually being out here today, (I’m) just trying to take it all in and kind of realize that I’m here now,” Ebiketie said. “You only get to do this once, so I’m just trying to enjoy every moment.”