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Spring breakout player: Minnesota Golden Gophers

4/30/2015

With spring practice in the rear view, we’re taking a look at one player on each Big Team who had a breakout spring and who looks ready to take on a bigger role when the football starts to matter this fall.

Let's move on to Minnesota and a guy with a familiar last name:

Spring breakout player: DE Hank Ekpe

Ekpe's brother, Scott Ekpe, has been more of a known quantity on the Gophers' defensive line, as Hank has only been seen in flashes. The junior has started one career game, and a battle with severe headaches rendered him nearly useless down the stretch last season.

This spring, after fixing his headache woes, Hank Ekpe was almost unblockable at times. He was credited with two sacks in the Gophers' spring game, although defensive players weren't able to hit the quarterback. And he drew high praise from head coach Jerry Kill, who compared Ekpe to the star defensive ends at Missouri last season, Shane Ray and Markus Golden.

"He's all of a sudden matured," Kill said. "He's had a great offseason, and he can flat get off the ball.

"Right now, he just needs to keep doing what he's doing, and he's going to have a heck of a year."

The 6-foot-5, 244-pounder is slated to replace Michael Amaefula at defensive end this season and start opposite senior Theiren Cockran. His brother, Scott, is a defensive tackle who suffered a torn ACL in last year's season opener and sat out this spring. But this fall, Minnesota could have a pair of Ekpes wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines.