After breaking out this past spring for the Gophers, junior defensive end Hendrick Ekpe is on the verge of a huge year and is GopherDigest's prime candidate to be the breakout player in defense for Minnesota in 2015. Gophers head coach Jerry Kill agrees with GopherDigest.
“He reminds me of the two guys from Missouri,” coach Jerry Kill said referencing Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who combined for 42½ tackles for a loss last season. “I mean, he’s all of a sudden matured. He’s had a great offseason, and he can flat get off the ball. We haven't blocked him on the pass rush yet."
Hank Ekpe showed huge promise as a true freshman in 2013, but a severe sinus infection left the Gophers’ defensive end with splitting headaches last March, forcing him to miss most of spring camp. The headaches returned last fall when the weather turned cold, and he finished his sophomore season with just four tackles in the season’s final nine games.
"Sometimes my vision would blur after getting hit on a play,” Ekpe said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can go’ because it was really affecting my game. I didn’t want to be out there if I was hurting the team."
Ekpe thinks he has things under control now.
“I’m just taking medicine, things like Vitamin D to control the immune system,” he said. “[The doctors] think it’s gone now. When it gets cold, it comes back a little bit but not as bad as it was before. So I think the medicine really helps.” But after a great spring, GopherDigest believes he's on the verge on a huge year. Coach Kill thinks his maturity has played a huge role in that.
"He's all of a sudden matured," Kill said of Hank Ekpe. "Right now he just needs to keep doing what he's doing and he's going to have a heck of a year. I don't know what it is. Some kids mature later than others. But he's always been an athlete. He's playing hard right now."