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Carolina Panthers

2022 Draft Day 1 transcripts

T Ikem Ekwonu

RE: Ekwonu's first reaction to being drafted to his hometown

I mean honestly it is just crazy. You know, obviously, I have grown up in Charlotte playing football throughout my years. Stayed home and went to NC State. So, I have been in North Carolina my whole life. That fact that every step of my football journey I have been in North Carolina I feel like that says something. I am just really excited for this next opportunity.

RE: If he thought as he was going through the pre‐Draft process that coming to the Carolina Panthers was possible

I mean, I'm sure. I was kind of going into it like I really felt like I was going to wind up at the best team I needed to be. Wherever that wound up being, I feel like whatever team wound up putting their faith in me and taking me for the right reasons and I was going to wind up in the spot for me. And I feel like I did that with Carolina.

RE: What he plans to do to celebrate and what conversations he's had with the Panthers about the position he will play

First and foremost, I am going to go celebrate with my family. I have my aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, mom, dad, everyone here celebrating me, and I feel so blessed for that. I'm going to celebrate with them. Really enjoy the night. And then we had a couple of conversations, (offensive line) coach (James) Campen and I and some of the staff. Really, I just told them I feel like I can play anywhere they need me to play. My versatility, like you said, is one of my strongest points so, I am going to use that versatility in however they see fit.

RE: How he describes himself as a player and the suit he is wearing tonight

I feel like violence, physicality, strain. I feel like those are some of the key words and values to describe my game personally.

RE: The meaning of his suit.

With the suit, you know I will start with the chain. I actually have a 704 right here on this chain. Green, white, green for my Nigerian roots. And I got "Ickey" on the chain as well. That's my nickname. I actually have the Nigerian flag on the lapel as well, so you know another homage to my Nigerian culture. And I actually have red bottoms on, Christian Louboutin, because the splash of red represents NC State, the Wolfpack. We just kind of put this whole thing together with stories about my life.

RE: What is means to be the first offensive player taken in the 2022 Draft

I feel like it is really cool. Really blessed. I guess I made history some way today. I feel like it's honestly such a blessing.

RE: Relationship with the Panthers growing up

I actually had a Thomas Davis jersey growing up. And I actually met Thomas Davis this morning as well. So, it's kind of crazy how things line up. You know I had a Thomas Davis jersey growing up. I was at the NFC Championship game when they beat the Cardinals. I was right in the end zone. I've been to a couple games. I've been able to see the ups and downs of the team and just fortunate to have such an impact on the team's legacy.

RE: Favorite places to eat in Charlotte

So, I used to go this breakfast spot called Le Peep a lot. It'is probably like fifteen minutes from my house. That was really good. I used to go to this spot called Improper Pig. I feel like that was pretty good. I used to go to this spot called Pizza Peel. We used to do O‐Line dinners when I went to Providence Day, so we used to try a bunch of different restaurants. Pizza Peel is pretty good, but I feel like that's a little bit of a franchise around Charlotte. Not like one of those mom and pops. But yeah, I have been to a couple of restaurants.

RE: What it is like to be familiar with the city of the team that drafted him

I mean honestly, I feel like it's kind of nice. Kind of being already comfortable with the city and the environment. That is just one less thing I have to worry about. One less thing I've got to focus on.

RE: Favorite memory growing up in Charlotte

I would probably say right around my house there is this thing called Matthews Alive. It's like the city of Matthews' big festival. I remember the first time as a kid that was when I could fit on all the carnival rides and all that sort of stuff. I was trying all the rides and that was the first time I had fried Oreos and that kind of stuff. So, I would probably say that was one of my best memories.

RE: Favorite memories from his journey to being drafted

All the support I've had from so many different types of people, so many different people in my life. I have some of the people with me here today in Vegas that have supported to me. My old wrestling coach, high school football coach, o‐line coach. All sorts of people. Really just kind of seeing that all that support and having them here with me as I achieve my dreams really brings a smile to my face.

RE: What he did this morning before the draft

Honestly it was kind of crazy. I woke up this morning and it was probably the first time I felt a little nervousness. I was pretty much excited until like this morning. I was like dang, it's really crazy, my whole life's about to change. We visited with the Commissioner and Thomas Davis was there and Troy Vincent was there to kind of just instill some wisdom into us. That was nice having some of those conversations.

Really after that I just got ready. I put my suit on like at noon today and the fact that I'm finally here, it's crazy.

RE: If he considered himself a Panthers fan

I would say that.

RE: How he thinks he can help the Panthers create a winning season

I just want to do everything I can to help win. I feel like that kind of just starts with working. I'm sure they are going to send me a playbook soon maybe try to get in that. Just doing everything I can to be the best player on and off the field.

RE: If he spent his entire childhood in Charlotte

I did.

RE: If he has gotten any texts or phone calls that were crazy and if he's even had a chance to look at his phone yet

I haven't even had a chance. I haven't event looked at my phone since I got that call.

RE: His plans for the night and the fact that the team has already put a picture of him on the Bank of America Stadium scoreboard

Oh really? Dang, that's crazy. After I leave here, I'm about to go celebrate with my family. Celebrate with my whole support staff that's been here. Really just excited.

RE: If he will get his own place or stay with his parents

No, I'm going to get a new place. I'm going to get a new place for sure.

RE: How his experience helping turn around NC State will translate to the Panthers

Well, I mean I feel like the motto of NC State is really hard, tough, together. I feel like this past season the whole team really bought into that mindset. We want to be hard; we want to be tough, we want to be together. I feel like that chemistry, that togetherness, is really kind of what grew our team. Really what helped us get over that hump to eight wins. I feel like it starts with connectivity. Being able to talk to some of the guys in the room and being about to just have that personal side to them. I feel like once you have that personal side it makes it even easier to critique each other and criticize each other and at the end of the day it makes us all better.

RE: How wrestling helped him in his growth as a football player

It definitely helped me a lot. Level changes. Being able to move my body around and throw my body around and keep leverage. Having to sprawl and react quickly when guys are shooting on you. Hand fighting too. Having to fight for position and all that sort of stuff. Also like a mindset thing too. On the wrestling mat it's just you and another opponent. It's just one‐on‐one. You've got to do what you've got to do. I feel like it's one of the toughest sports mentally and physically so I feel like a lot of my football game I can attribute that to wrestling.

RE: If it matters what position he plays

No. Just wherever (offensive line) coach (James) Campen feels like we can win the most games.

General Manager Scott Fitterer & Head Coach Matt Rhule

RE: If they expected Ikem Ekwonu to be available and what the discussion was when all three of the top offensive tackles were available

Scott Fitterer: I was actually very surprised that all three tackles were there. We had started to hear that four defenders may go first, one, two, three, four. But in this situation, this is the best case scenario for us. I can't say a couple of days ago we would ever have thought this would happen. We were pleasantly surprised as it went. The Giants, we didn't know what they were going to do in that situation with all three on the board. We thought they could go with a pass rusher at that point and not tackle and still get their guy at seven, one of the three at seven. Overall, we were very excited and can't wait to get this guy here.

RE: Thoughts on Ekwonu as a player, how much he helps the offensive line and how much conversation there was from other teams to trade up for the pick

SF: He is the tone setter. He is a smart guy. He is physical. He's tough. He's got every trait that you want in an offensive lineman. We are excited about that. He came in here and met with us a week or two ago and really impressed everybody so much. (Offensive line coach) James Campen and (assistant offensive line coach Robert) Kugler, they went down, they met with him, they walked out and they were like, 'Wow, this guy just blows us away with his intelligence.' Then you just watch the physical style that he brings. I think he's a great, great addition to this offensive line. Part of this offseason was to fix the offensive line. That was our intention. That was our priority. I think this is a great step forward for that. For the second part of that question, you know with the corners being gone, they were the ones kind of driving all the trade talk, so it was not as active. There was a lot of pre‐draft trade talk. Guys, hey if this happens, this happens. You got a feel from other teams as they were starting to come up for the corners or wanted to come up for the corners or the pass rushers. When those guys went, it got a little bit more quiet than we thought might happen at the pick.

RE: What made Ekwonu stand out above the other tackles

SF: All of them, really good guys. They all had great traits. We would've been happy with any of them. What we really like about Ickey, is he is the tone setter. The intelligence, the physical style of play. He brings all of the intangibles that we want as well as the physical attributes.

RE: If there were there tempting trade calls

SF: Nothing serious. We asked a couple teams if they wanted to flip with us because we thought we could go back one or two and maybe pick up something. But I think other people are looking at the same board that we are right there at six so there wasn't a lot of action on the clock.

RE: If the team will consider trading back into the first round

SF: I think Coach (Matt Rhule) and I are going to regroup after this, get our scouts together, get Mr. Tepper and we'll look at every opportunity to move back up. But if we walk out of this with Ickey, we're looking at CJ (Henderson) as our third round pick, that's a heck of a day. We need really good solid football players. We don't need numbers of players. Walking away with him, we're really excited.

RE: What Matt Rhule's "signature Ikey story" was from the draft process

Matt Rhule: I think just having him on the visit, obviously everyone sees the tape, sees the way that he can play. I mean even after we drafted him, Chanelle (Smith‐Walker) who works in our social media department, she's taking pictures, she said, "We got Ikey?" She worked at NC State, she loved him. I think when he came in the building, it was like a bolt of energy. Just really a special person to go along with his physical style of play. There is no doubt that he can pass set, that he can run block, he's got all those tools. I also believe the person that he is. He's from right here in Charlotte, he went to Providence Day. This is going to be a special place for him. We talked everything from favorite restaurants, to blocking the three‐technique. He's a person that is going to step into this locker room and our players are going to respect the way that he plays but also who he is. I think that 30 visit was, I mean it was one of the best things that I've ever been a part of. We walked away like wow, that's a grown man. I want to echo the sentiment that Scott made, I feel like we've added a lot of really good players and we've got a lot of really good players and a lot of players have grown up over the last couple of years within our systems. So this was about getting an impact player and we felt like Ike was an impact player. I think Scott and I probably sat there this morning, went through like 50 scenarios, and not very many of them had him still being available. That's not a discredit to him that's just a great thing for the Carolina Panthers.

RE: If Ekwonu lives in Rhule or Fitterer's neighborhoods

MR: No, no, no, I think he's over more by Matthews.

RE: If the team anticipates picking later in the first round or in Day 2 of the draft, and what Ekwonu's selection means for the quarterback position

SF: Yeah, I think today it's probably, it's not going to happen today. We'll look at every opportunity tomorrow. There are some ways we can do it, but we just have to figure out is it the right way, is this what's best for the Panthers long term? There's a lot of talks that will happen with Matt, myself, Mr. Tepper and our crew but we have not got to that point yet.

RE: If Fitterer thinks this will increase the chances of trading for a veteran quarterback

SF: I think we'll look at every opportunity out there. There are still some really good players in this draft and we'll also look at every opportunity outside the organization.

RE: The added bonus that Ekwonu is from Charlotte and how great it is for the organization

MR: I always think about kids, right? I think about kids, especially coming off of COVID and youth sports shut down. And to think back‐to‐back years we took a first‐round draft pick from South Carolina and we just took a first‐round draft pick from North Carolina. Now I know that some of my neighbors that their schools were represented will be upset with me, but we represented the states well. These guys are going to come here and it means something to be a Carolina Panther. These guys are going to come here, they're going to play really hard, they are going to play in front of family and friends. And when the youth league comes, or the Pop Warner team comes, or when they turn on the game, to see people that grew up where they grew up I think it's really really important. We're just going to take the best player possible. I can't tell you how highly rated we had Ikey on our board. This is a special day for us right now. We're trying to be cool, calm and collected but we're pretty fired up to get Ikey. But I do think back‐to‐back years first‐round draft picks coming out of both states, I think that's a pretty cool storyline.

View photos of Panthers coaches and personnel leaders inside the draft room on Thursday night of the 2022 NFL Draft.

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