CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Editor's Note: The Carolina Panthers chose Charlotte native Ikem Ekwonu with the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft.
“I’m just going to do everything I can to be the best player, best person I can be," Ekwonu said of being drafted by the Panthers. "I’m from the area. I love Charlotte so much.”
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He "plays with an “extremely violent demeanor.”
And he gets “angry once he sets foot on the field."
Those are some of the descriptions given by scouts about Ikem Ekwonu, NC State's star left tackle, who hails from Charlotte.
But it doesn’t quite match with the “Ickey” the Ekwonu’s know.
"I think people see him on the field and use the word nasty," his father Tagbo Ekwonu said. "But he’s really a teddy bear.”
His mother pointed to a picture of Ickey when he was about 9 years old, just starting flag football, with a huge grin stretching across his face.
"He’s holding the ball, and laughing and running," Amaka Ekwonu said. "That’s just typical Ikem.”
Tagbo and Amaka Ekwonu are heading to Las Vegas. With some luck, their son Ickey could be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Most experts think he’ll certainly go in the Top 10. There's never been a player from Charlotte selected No. 1 overall.
Despite that, there are still nerves.
“It just needs to come already," Amaka said. "No, it’s been very exciting.”
Tagbo and Amaka are from Nigeria and met in England.
They raised their four children in Charlotte.
Ickey and twin brother Osita, a defensive lineman at Notre Dame, are the youngest.
“Ikem is just the joy," Amaka said. "He’s very boisterous, always has been from day one. Very loud, very happy, very joyful. Very kind. Just a sweet kid.”
Growing up, the boys played many sports, but not football until they were about nine.
“(Ickey) was always on the go," Tagbo said. "Part of the reason why we encouraged him to do sports is to burn some energy out. It worked out well.”
In addition to sports, there's something most first round picks Thursday night don’t boast in their background: musical theatre.
“They just didn’t have plans for the summer," Amaka said. "I said I will find something for you to do and I did. They didn’t like it very much initially, but I think it grew on them.”
Eventually, the Ekwonu’s let Ickey play football.
At Providence Day he had offers to attend Harvard and Yale, but went to NC State, where he stacked up pancake blocks, and became as The Athletic called him – "the most feared lineman in the ACC."
Despite the scary descriptions of his game, you can bet that he’ll be smiling ear to ear Thursday in typical Ickey fashion, walking across the stage to meet the NFL Commissioner and begin the next part of his journey.
"People keep asking me not to cry," Amaka said. "I don’t know if I will. It’s going to be remarkable. Full circle for him. Just a dream come true.”
“Just bright," Tagbo said. "He deserves it. He works hard. He’s just a good kid.”