The journey of Kenny Willekes isn’t one you see often in college football. An under-recruited walk-on turned into one of the most imposing defensive ends in the B1G and across the country.

Coming out of high school, Willekes didn’t receive many offers to play college football. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound inside linebacker decided to give Michigan State a shot, and Mark Dantonio allowed him the opportunity to be a walk-on in 2015.

Fast forward five years, and Willekes has been an All-B1G selection, the conferences Defensive Lineman of the Year and a potential selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. He leaves Michigan State with 51 tackles for loss, 26 sacks and four forced fumbles.

In a recent interview with Fifth Quarter, Willekes opened up about several topics, and expressed his gratitude for his former head coach. Willekes explained that Dantonio’s impact reached further than football.

“He taught me a lot of football, a lot about football,” Willekes said of Dantonio. “He helped me become a great football player, but it was much more than that, off the field especially. I remember being a walk-on and the transition to college was a little hard for me coming in. He took time out of his day to talk to me about life, talk to me about faith, talk to me about being a man. A lot of head coaches wouldn’t even take the time, I feel like, to sit with their players, nonetheless a walk-on in his first year. We talked on multiple nights during my freshman year for hours up in his office.”

Dantonio opted to step down as head coach at Michigan State earlier this month, putting an end to a 13-year run with the Spartans. He ended his career as the winningest head football coach in program history, winning three B1G titles and leading MSU to a College Football Playoff berth.

While there’s been some scrutiny about Dantonio’s sudden decision, Willekes is still thankful for the long-tenured head coach, and the opportunity he provided the former walk-on.