Scott Ekpe was in peak condition at this time last year, heading into his junior season, ready to fill the Gophers' defensive tackle void with Ra'Shede Hageman in the NFL.
But on the season's first defensive series, against Eastern Illinois, Ekpe suffered a torn ACL. He was granted a medical redshirt, so he'll be a junior again this year, and the Gophers are counting on him to replace departing senior Cameron Botticelli.
Ekpe was still rehabbing during spring practice, but he's ready to go for the start of training camp Friday.
"Health-wise, there's no pain or anything," Ekpe said. "I've got the strength back. I did a little bit of individual [drills Monday], and I felt 100 percent."
Ekpe is a soft-spoken guy, but it's easy to sense his excitement. He's expected to be a part of a starting defensive line that includes his brother, Hendrick Ekpe, along with Theiren Cockran and Steven Richardson. The Gophers also like their depth at D-line, with Alex Keith, Robert Ndondo-Lay, Gaelin Elmore, Andrew Stelter and Gary Moore among the reinforcements.
"Friday’s right around the corner, but it feels like it’s a few months from now," Ekpe said, seemingly counting the minutes. "I’ve just got to be patient with that. I’m ready to go just because it’s been a long time."