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Growing up, Ken Ekanem was considered too big to play in the Southwestern Youth Association, so his first taste of organized football didn’t come until the eighth grade.

“I used to play football outside every day with my friends, but I was nervous for my first game,” Ekanem said. “I started the game with a sack, then had two tackles for a loss and in the third quarter, recovered a fumble for a touchdown.”

That was just the beginning of what was to come. During the past three years, Ekanem has blossomed into one of the area’s best and is a key member of the Centreville High School squad, which finished 9-3 last season.

Ekanem recorded 75 tackles, 17 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and 18 quarterback pressures as a junior defensive end last season. He’s also grown since then, and is now 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds.

It’s no wonder Ekanem is one of the most highly touted high school players in the country and already has fielded 16 offers from some of the top college football programs in the nation.

“My first offer was sophomore year from Boston College. They have been sending me mail since the end of my freshman year,” Ekanem said. “At the time, they couldn’t see me, so they would have to talk to my coach and he would tell me. This year, colleges came by and talked with me and made offers.”

Those colleges include Oregon, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Illinois, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, Virginia and Boston College, among others.

“I had been talking to other prospects when I went to games and such, so I knew this was going to be kind of hectic. I thought it was going to be really stressful, but it really wasn’t,” Ekanem said. “My mom talks to me about colleges but she’s not that much into it. I know how to deal with it and my coach and me made up the system where I talk to coaches on Mondays and then he gives me advice.”

Under the guidance of Chris Haddock, Centreville’s head football coach, Ekanem has been speaking to college football representatives for the past two years.

“The protocol is that they work through me and they certainly make their own football evaluation of the kid. But they use me to find out what kind of work ethic he has, what type of character he has, and most of the coaches in being thorough want to talk to me about him and his family so they can get a good picture of the kid so they know how to recruit him,” Haddock said. “I don’t think Ken was distracted one bit. To his credit, I think he has been very level-headed and taken it all in stride.”

Ekanem said there are a lot of rules coaches and recruiters must follow, and he picked up what you can and can’t do simply by watching the news and TV shows like his favorite, “Friday Night Lights.”

Haddock also has helped simplify the process and make it work for Ekanem and his family.

“We talk all the time. We have a good dialogue back and forth of schools that have talked to him and schools that come by and visit and we debrief after people come by,” Haddock said. “He asks questions when he needs to and he is good at asking the coaches what he needs to know. I think he has a real good grasp of the process and what he really wants out of college. I’ve been very impressed with the way he’s handled things.”

Although coaches have told Ekanem he would fit in best as a 4-3 end or 3-4 outside linebacker, Ekanem prefers to play the latter. That’s one of the things that might go into his final decision of where to play.

“I look for a school with good academics; a school that has a good business program and sports marketing,” he said. “I look for good coaches, ones I can relate to. A good class of 2012. I want to go in with guys that are good talent-wise and social-wise.”

In just eight months, college football’s National Signing Day takes place and the All-Met defensive lineman will need to choose his school.

“I’m looking forward to becoming a better football player and better person in college,” he said. “I want that to be the best four years of my life when I go there.”

Ekanem isn’t giving away any hints as to where he’s leaning, but he did say that “if the place feels like home, I’ll go.”

But before college, Ekanem still has his senior year to look forward to, and Haddock is going to continue helping him become the best player he can be.

“Part of the reason he is in the position that he is in is because he is such a good kid and has a great work ethic,” Haddock said. “He is still a young kid and there are still some fundamental things that we will continue to work on. He has all the raw tools size, speed that anyone would want. The work ethic is going to get more intense at the next level and I will probably apply a little pressure to him in that regard to make sure he is playing at his maximum all times knowing that’s what he has to do to survive at the next level.”

Ekanem is looking forward to the challenge ahead and expects the Wildcats to improve on last year’s record.

“I think we will be really good and I feel like we can make a deep run into the playoffs and maybe states. That’s what we are shooting for,” he said. “I love the brotherhood of football; depending on each other. I bond on and off the field with my teammates and I’m looking forward to another year of that at Centreville.”