When Arnold Ebiketie received a call from Falcons' GM Terry Fontenot on d`raft night, for him, it was a culmination of everything that he had been through to reach this point in his life. Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Ebiketie first love was soccer, the most popular sport in the west-central African country.
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When Ebiketie's parents, Jean Marie Ebiketie and Guy Susanne, moved him and his three siblings to the United States when he was 13, there was no familiarity with American football. Going to Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Md., Ebiketie noticed that soccer was one of the least popular sports at his school. He was later exposing him to football, not knowing he would be drafted to the NFL seven years later.
"Going to school with everybody else, there was more basketball players and football players," Ebiketie said. "I wanted to be competitive and bond with the other guys and that's why I made the transition. At first, I started with basketball and then I transitioned to football."
Being a late bloomer to the sport didn't stop Ebiketie from standing out amongst guys who had been playing football their entire lives. As a naturally competitive and athletic person, traits his dad instilled in him, this made Ebiketie's transition to the United States smoother. Establishing those bonds with athletes through basketball and football made it easier to adjust himself in this new environment.
In his three years at Albert Einstein, he played both wide receiver and linebacker, earning co-Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Sentinel honors during his senior campaign. He racked up 298 receiving yards, three touchdowns, 36 tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks.
As those stats make clear, football came naturally to the native Cameroonian. His father had developed a love for American football while he was still in high school, but his mom didn't really start taking this sport seriously until college scholarship offers started pouring in.
"She started to see the accolades I was getting and that's when she actually went back and started learning the game and now it's unbelievable for my whole family given the fact that I was able to inspire them," Ebiketie said.
Ebiketie would later take his talents to Temple University, as a defensive end. He led Temple in tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and sacks. In a game against South Florida, Ebiketie set a single-game record in tackles for loss and was tied at the end of that season for first in the conference for forced fumbles. In his three seasons at Temple, he realized he had accomplished everything he set out for himself their but knew there was another challenge to take on.
"As a football player, I was looking for challenges and ways to get better," Ebiketie said. "I felt like going to a program like Penn State, the place that would allow you to get better as a football player and also teach you how to become a professional in the sport. That was the main reason why I wanted to make that transition and, looking back on it, I think that's the best decision I've made."
As a redshirt senior at Penn State, Ebiketie totaled 62 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and was honored as the Nittany Lions coaching staff's Defensive Player of the Week twice.
After a successful college tenure, Ebiketie was ready fulfill his dream of playing professional football at the highest-level.
When draft night finally came around, Ebiketie's was surrounded by family in the comfort of his living room. He knew the call was coming any minute.
"You get a little bit nervous," Ebiketie said. "When I looked at my phone, it said Atlanta, Ga., and I picked it up and talked to the GM, head coach, and owner. It didn't really hit me until I talked to them, and all the emotions just came out."
The Falcons traded up to select Ebiketie 38th overall, in the second round of the NFL draft. This was a full circle moment for him.
"It definitely makes it more special when you take a step back and look at the journey," Ebiketie said. "There was highs and lows, but I feel like along the way I learned so much through adversity. It got me to where I am today learning from the mistakes that I made back then and just being able to improve and fix them."
As Ebiketie prepares to make his NFL debut in a couple of weeks, carrying that same relentless mentality that what engrained in him early on is what he plans to bring to this Falcons franchise.
"Having the will to get it done," Ebiketie said, "that's what motivates me every time I go out there."