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The DMV is a hotbed for NFL talent, and in recent years, the Washington Football Team has taken advantage.
From drafting Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge) and Chase Young (DeMatha) in the first round to adding Logan Thomas (Brookville) and Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) in free agency, Washington has turned to its own backyard to construct a roster that helped the franchise win its first NFC East title since 2015.
In anticipation for the 2022 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 28, Comanders.com is examining some of the best local prospects in this year's draft class by talking to their high school coaches. First up is Arnold Ebiketie, who grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and played at Albert Einstein High School.
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
Mike Bonavia has been getting a lot of visitors from NFL coaches these days.
Sometimes it's for more than an hour; other times, it's just for 15 minutes. Regardless of the time, the conversation is always about the same thing. They want to know Arnold Ebiketie, his former player at Albert Einstein High School, and they want to know everything they can about him.
"They don't wanna any longer know about his height and his weight and his speed," Bonavia said. "They wanna know about his character, his upbringing."
It's exciting for Bonavia, because he feels like all these coaches are trying to solidify Ebiketie's position on their draft boards. To him, it's the culmination of Ebiketie's journey of transforming himself into an NFL caliber player.
Bonavia has known Ebiketie for eight years, and when he first joined Albert Einstein's program as a sophomore, he was far from the product he became. He had exceptional length (Bonavia described it as having "arms that went down to his knees") paired with a great work ethic, but he was raw as an edge rusher and needed to learn how to use the tools at his disposal.
Luckily for Bonavia and the rest of the Albert Einstein coaches, Ebiketie was enthusiastic about taking on the challenge. Some players who have the natural ability in high school tend to rely on that to beat their opponents in 1-on-1 matchups. That wasn't the case with Ebiketie. He wanted to put in the time to fine tune that ability to make it more potent.
Ebiketie essentially made a second home out of the Albert Einstein weight room. It got to the point where Bonavia and the other coaches would have to force him out. Not that it stopped him from working, of course. He would go off on his own and do some bag drills at school.
"That's the difference," Bonavia said. "When you go to your next program or your next team, and you talk about, 'Hey, the reason why this guy is where he is,' it's…attention to detail, putting the time in."
It took about a year for things to click with Ebiketie, but eventually, he was one of the better edge rushers in the DMV. For him, success began with the first step off the line of scrimmage. He would breeze by offensive tackles, and Bonavia said it got to the point where many teams would have to keep a running back or a tight end on his side.
"You just couldn't block him in high school, one-on-one," Bonavia said. "It was that first burst that took you off. And of course he was so long and lanky. He was causing a lot of problems."
By his senior year, he was thriving as one of Albert Einstein's most dominant players, and his skill set wasn't relegated to defense, either. In the mind of Jermaine Howell, who took over as Albert Einstein's offensive coordinator that year, it seemed like a natural fit for someone with Ebiketie's size and athleticism to have the ball in his hands. So, the coaches added slot receiver to Ebiketie's responsibilities. It wasn't a natural transition, but he eventually became an effective piece for the passing attack.
"Once he caught the ball, it was hard for people to stop and check him," Howell said. "He was a great complement to our other receivers. And when he could give him the ball, he definitely produced."
Ebiketie finished his senior season with 298 yards and three touchdowns. As Howell expected, his size, speed and agility were what helped him become a solid addition to the receiving corps. It also helped that he could outwork anyone.
"He's a 'put your head down and let's grind' type of player."
Ebiketie's true position remained on defense, though, and he saw a drastic jump during his senior year. He improved from 9.5 sacks as a junior to 21.5, which was one shy of tying the Maryland high school record. He was the co-Defensive Player of the Year and received first team All-Sentinel honors for his performance.
Naturally, that led to plenty of attention from college scouts, and Ebiketie signed a scholarship with Temple. He played three seasons with the Owls before transferring to Penn State, where he recorded 9.5 sacks, 62 tackles and two forced fumbles.
NFL.coms' Lance Zierlein gave Ebiketie a grade of 6.34 out of 8.0, putting him in the range of players who the analyst believes "will eventually be a plus starter."
"Purposeful rusher with good length," Zierlein wrote. "Ebiketie is quiet to the edge with accurate, active hands and a pressure percentage worthy of projection. He's not bendy and loose but uses body lean and skilled hands to grease the edge and access the pocket."
ESPN's Mel Kiper has Ebiketie ranked as the No. 2 outside linebacker in this year's draft class. Linebackers in general are not regarded as highly this year (only two have been consistently projected to go in the first round). That would leave Ebiketie as a Day 2 pick, but it's possible a team could trade up to get him.
Either way, it'll be another step for Ebiketie in his playing career, and Bonavia doesn't have any reservations on how he'll fare as a professional. It's why he can speak so confidently to all those NFL Scouts about his former player's future.
"I think this is great fortune coming to someone who will appreciate it," Bonavia said.