SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As Michigan State football fell 7-6 to Oregon in the Redbox Box on New Year’s Eve, it also lost one of its key contributors.
Coach Mark Dantonio announced defensive end Kenny Willekes broke his left fibula with 5:05 left in the third quarter, after being blocked down by Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell.
“As the season would go, he’s broke his leg,” Dantonio said. “it’s a broken fibula, I believe. But he’ll heal.”
And linebacker Joe Bachie went to check on Willekes, Bachie said Willekes told him “he felt something pop.”
That’s when Bachie knew Willekes was legitimately hurt.
“I know who Kenny is. He’s a guy that fights through anything,” said Bachie, who had eight total tackles. “And once he told me that, it hit me. I kind of froze for a minute or two.”
That’s because Willekes now finishes the 2018 season with 78 total tackles, including a team-high 20.5 tackles for loss, and has a team-high 8.5 sacks.
This earned the 6-foot-4, 260-pound redshirt junior first-team All-Big Ten by coaches and the media, along with being a All-American by four organizations — first-team for The Athletic; second-team for Football Writers Association of America, Sporting News, Walter Camp Football Foundation.
But, Willekes came back on MSU’s sideline in the fourth quarter in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, crutches and a boot on his left leg.
“It’s just a testament to the type of guy he is,” said safety Khari Willis, who had three total tackles and two pass breakups. “He said, ‘I have a broken leg, so what?’ It’s just the tough guy he is.”
That toughness, Bachie said, is why he thinks Willekes is going to be really successful — whether returns to East Lansing for his senior season or enters the NFL Draft.
“I know he’s going to go kill his treatment, kill his rehab, and he’s going to come back next year strong,” Bachie said.