East Lansing — Michigan State’s football program got some more good news on Tuesday when junior defensive end Kenny Willekes announced he will return for his senior season.
“After much discussion with my family, coaches, and close friends I have decided this is not the way I want to end my career at Michigan State,” Willekes posted on Twitter. “I will be returning to Michigan State for my senior year to pursue the goal of returning to the Big Ten championship with my brothers.”
The Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the year finished his season with 20.5 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks, but was knocked out of Michigan State’s Redbox Bowl loss to Oregon after suffering a broken left leg. He joins linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive tackle Raequan Williams, who also decided to return for their junior seasons. Junior cornerback Justin Layne opted to enter the NFL Draft.
Willekes earned several All-American honors, including first team from The Athletic and second team from the Football Writers Association of America, Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation. Willekes is the second Spartan to be named the Big Ten’s top defensive lineman, joining Shilique Calhoun in 2013. He was also selected to the All-Big Ten First Team by the coaches, media and Associated Press.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound native of Rockford, Willekes’ 20.5 tackles for loss were the most in the Big Ten and good for second-most in a season at MSU. His 8.5 sacks led the Spartans and ranked fourth in the Big Ten. The former walk-on has registered a career-high 78 tackles to rank first among all defensive lineman in the nation, 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 regular-season games, including a career-high 3.5 against Ohio State and Nebraska in back-to-back games.