Arnold Ebiketie’s teammates were thrilled at his heroics in last week’s 39-37 win over visiting South Florida, but they knew what was coming next.
Temple’s 6-foot-4, 240-pound redshirt junior defensive end capped a big day by scooping up a fumble and running 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown as the Owls evened their record to 1-1 heading into Saturday’s game at defending American Athletic Conference champion Memphis.
After the game, his good friend, Temple receiver Jadan Blue, was asked about the skill that Ebiketie showed running with the ball and whether he should get some snaps on offense.
“Oh goodness, don’t get Arnold started. He’s been talking about how he wants to be a receiver, how he can play everything we can. So please don’t get Arnold started,” Blue said, feigning exasperation.
Sorry, but it’s too late for that.
It seems that Ebiketie had been in the ear of the offensive coaches well before Saturday’s heroics.
“It is funny. I am one of those guys every day at practice talking to the coaches and asking them if I could play receiver, tight end, and even defensive back,” Ebiketie said, laughing during a phone interview on Tuesday. “It’s funny.”
The team enjoys the jokes.
“He is just making plays all over the field. He’s a good guy to be around, but he’s not coming on our side. That’s for the receivers,” said receiver Randle Jones, cracking up as he spoke. “We don’t want to give him any ideas.”
Actually, the reason Ebiketie won’t be playing offense anytime soon is because he has excelled on defense. In Saturday’s win, he had six tackles, including 3½ tackles for loss, and a sack, in addition to his fumble return touchdown. That earned him the AAC defensive player of the week award.
This is his first year as a starter. Last season, Temple had a veteran defensive end unit led by Quincy Roche, who was the AAC defensive player of the year and transferred to Miami after the season.
Pro Football Focus College gave Roche the highest edge-defender grade for last week’s games (91.7), and Ebiketie was second (89.7).
“Playing with Quincy last year, it was motivation for me, and I am still close to him,” Ebiketie said. “I talk to him all the time, and that has really helped me.”
What has helped the most is getting on the field more and gaining experience. Last season, Ebiketie appeared in 12 games and had 13 tackles. He has already made 16 tackles in the first two games this year.
Ebiketie remains a work in progress because he got such a late start playing football. Born in Cameroon, he came to the United States when he was 12 and didn’t begin playing football until his sophomore year at Albert Einstein High in Kensington, Md.
“Before playing football, basketball was my sport. But I really liked football, started to take it seriously, and kept learning,” he said.
Ebiketie was 202 pounds when he came to Temple and he has lived in the weight room. But the added weight hasn’t taken away any of his quickness.
“The eight weeks we had before [the coronavirus shutdown], I think he attacked the weight room like he never had in his life,” coach Rod Carey said. “And then during COVID, when we weren’t here, he certainly kept himself in great shape, and we were able to get back to train, and he took that same attitude.”
That attitude has extended into the regular season. Ebiketie is all business on the field. But he likes to have fun with his teammates and coaches. The requests to play offense should only intensify.