Nick Ekanem: Had What it 'Takes'
Senior Spotlight on SAGU All-American
After Four years of take-aways, Nick gives back
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The athletic career of Nick Ekanem didn’t take the road less traveled. But when he approached the finish he was still standing and was a better man as a result.
Like a well-meaning motto (2nd Thessalonians 3:10) in his life, “You don’t work, you don’t eat,” the Houston native could rest on the laurels he often accrued. The ferocious game of football demands continually proving your wares or else, step aside for someone with more desire.
Ekanem (EE-kahn-um, like economy sans the ‘y’) enjoyed a standout prep career at B.F. Terry High School in Richmond, Texas.
Named after Benjamin Franklin Terry – who led a group of Texan volunteers for the Confederate States Army; known as the Terry Rangers.
Well-representing the school’s motto, “Rangers Never Quit,” Nick made a name for himself in the defensive backfield.
It led to his signing with Arkansas State University, a Division I member in the NCAA (Sun Belt Conference). Things didn’t develop as desired, leading to his redshirting as a freshman for the Red Wolves.
Having heard about SAGU from his brother Mike, who was a Strength & Conditioning Coach for the San Antonio Spurs, Ekanem made the decision to transfer.
“The opportunity to get back on the football field was the main reason,” he explains. “Also SAGU is small college, so education was more personal and better suited for me.”
“I could focus more,” Nick said. “Plus, SAGU gives you the opportunity to get closer to the Lord as well.”
He burst on the scene during his first season in Waxahachie.
As a 5-foot-10, 195-pound cornerback, Ekanem was driven to verify his game. Never lacking confidence, his strengths were in his strong, stout legs and a knack for making plays on the ball.
Told he lacked speed, he had plenty when he needed it. In fact, his closing speed more than compensated any perceived lack of velocity.
As expected, opponents went after the freshman. He broke up a pass in his first game and went on to separate receivers from the ball in all ten games. He had 13 breakups and intercepted six.
The swipes ranked him fourth in the nation while the combined 19 passes defensed were the best in the NAIA. Some debut!
Combined with a breakthrough season from linebacker Jared Hudgins (Midland, Tx / Midland Christian), who also topped the NAIA (14.1 tackles per game), the two became SAGU’s first-ever All-American performers.
The next two seasons were not nearly as productive as injuries, first to his knee, then to his foot, hindered his play as a sophomore and junior. Still, he added to his totals with four more thefts. He missed a total of eight games.
This past season, the Lions’ third four-win season in recent years, Ekanem showed a remarkable recovery from surgery. He personified his jersey number and nickname: “High Five.”
He also paired with his heir-apparent, freshman corner Shakeem Taylor (Mesquite, Tx / Poteet HS), giving SAGU two of the country’s top ballhawks.
Having regained his form, Ekanem pilfered eight picks and was credited with nine pass breakups. The steals were his career best and rated third in the NAIA. His seventeen passes defensed were also third finest in the nation.
His four-year total of 18 interceptions gave him more take-aways than any player in SAGU history. He also racked up 36 pass break ups.
Colorful and flashing a 100-watt smile, Nick is quick thanks to the Lord for the opportunity at SAGU and to Head Coach Jesse Godding. “Coach Godding opened the door here and never stopped believing in me.”
Nick credits his toughness and faith to his mother, Judy, who raised four children alone. All are college graduates.
“She worked so hard and sacrificed so much for us,” he said. “My mom has taught us how to live by faith and by meeting the needs of others.”
Judy Ekanem is a nurse. So are her daughters, Margaret Etuk and Rhoda Ibok.
His brother Mike has recently accepted a new position as Assistant Coach and Recruiting Director for Women’s Basketball at Louisiana Tech University (NCAA Division I).
Nick was an education major. His next move follows a similar pattern of resilience.
“I had hoped to play at the next level,” Nick said in May, “but God has another plan for me.”
He tried out for the Pittsburgh Power, one of 14 teams in the Arena Football League. “I was unfortunately let go the last day of cuts.”
What’s next for the congenial Ekanem?
“Now I plan on getting my coaching career started at the high school level. I am also getting my teacher certification,” he explained.
“Most likely I will start at the junior high level,” he continued, “gaining experience and then working my way up. Either I will teach math for seventh and eighth graders or work as a Special Education Coach.”
Working his way up is just fine with Nick. He is used to it.
Ekanem finished his career by intercepting a pass in each of the last three games, two of them wins; 28-27 over OPSU and 24-13 against Texas College.
In the finale he was credited with three passes broken up and making a fumble recovery. The defense allowed 3.4 yards per play and forced four turnovers in building a 24-7 lead.
The last time fans saw Ekanem, he scooped up the fumble near the goal and nearly took it to the house. Refusing to go down, he rambled 52 yards, while stiff-arming a would-be tackler. (photo of runback below)
What a fitting way to cap a career!
Nick Ekanem Bio
Birthplace: Houston, Tx
Parent's Name: Judy Ekanem
Siblings: Margaret Etuk (30), Rhoda Ibok (30), Mike Ekanem (29)
High School: B.F. Terry High School (Richmond, Tx)
Favorite Motivational Motto: “You don’t work, you don’t eat!”
Favorite Movie: Coming to America, comedy
Favorite Restaurant in Waxahachie: Applebee’s or the new Chinese Buffett
Major at SAGU: Education
Career Direction: Teaching, Coaching Football
Q1) Who were your favorite SAGU professors and why?
Nick “High Five” Ekanem: Hands Down! Clancy Hayes and Dan Langston were my two favorite professors. They kept class interesting and were both hilarious.
Q2) How would you summarize your accomplishments (athletically) at SAGU?
Hi 5: I feel like I wish I could have done better but I did the best I could for what I was given. I’m proud to say I will go down in the SAGU history books. Well, at least until someone break my records. Records are meant to be broken and someday they will be.
The only one that will not come off the record books is that Jared Hudgins and I will always be the first ever NAIA All-Americans in SAGU football history.
Q3) What did you enjoy most about the SAGU experience?
Hi 5: Just hanging out with my teammates and putting on that vegas gold helmet on Game Day. Also, we’re close enough to where my mother and family could come watch me play.
Q4) Who was your favorite chapel speaker?
Hi 5: Hands down, Robert Madu was my favorite chapel speaker. I enjoyed every time he came to speak to us. He was very funny but also got his message across at the same time.
Q5) What were personal highlights or favorite memories of playing at SAGU?
Hi 5: My freshman year against Southern Nazarene University (Ok). I had two interceptions, forced one fumble, recovered a fumble, had a tackle for lost yardage and nine tackles overall.
My favorite memory was the weekend of my last game. At the final practice on Friday, my teammates poured a lot of love and respect my way. Honestly, I didn’t know some of them looked up to me the way they (said they) did.
I am grateful for the opportunity Coach Godding gave me. I was able to make a lot of new friendships that will last forever.
I also recall halftime of my last game. That was also a great memory. I got a lot of love from the fans and players (during the Senior Day ceremony) as well.
Most importantly, I got to take a picture on the field with the most important lady in my life, my mother.
My least favorite was the Bacone College game of my junior year. I try to forget it, but it’s true.
They really did come back and beat us after we built a 38-3 lead in the third quarter. Please tell me it was a dream. But, we were good enough to dominate them for almost three quarters!
Q6) What did you most appreciate from the athletic leadership on your team.
Hi 5: Although we didn’t have a winning record, the coaching staff always stayed positive and never game up on us, ever! I really appreciate Coach Demarcus Jones and Coach Vincent Marshall for bringing the best out in me.
Although I was an All American, they NEVER let me settle or NEVER cut me any slack at practice or in a game. I appreciate them for that.
Q7) What was your biggest win in purple and gold? What happened?
Hi 5: It was against Oklahoma Panhandle State University (OPSU) of my senior year. It was the first time SAGU defeated an NCAA Division 2 team! And it was on the road, in overtime.
(James) Gish kicked the game winning field goal, and then our defense stuffed them on fourth-and-two on the last play of the game.
Q8) Describe the competition in the NAIA.
Hi 5: Honestly, it was a little tougher than I expected. Unfortunately, while I was at SAGU, we were never able to overcome Langston University, NWOSU (Northwestern Oklahoma State University) and SNU. (Note: the last two teams are now in the NCAA D2)
Q9) What aspect of the game will you miss the most?
Hi 5: I will miss jamming receivers (at the line of scrimmage) and picking the ball off when the other team least expected it. I will also miss the pre-game stuff, getting “turnt up” with my boy Shakeem Taylor and the rest of the DBs.
Q10) What would you have liked to have accomplished?
Hi 5: First and foremost I would have liked to have had a winning record at SAGU. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. But we had fun trying! We’re coming closer each year!
Bonus Q) How would like to be remembered as a player?
Hi 5: That I left it all out on the field on game day and would go the extra mile to help out my teammates when needed! That I never took anything for granted.
That I played every game like it was my last, while at the same time giving all honor to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
You never know when your last game will be, or when your season could end with an injury like I had my sophomore year when I tore my ACL and meniscus.