Minnesota Viking, former MSU Spartan Willekes assists ex-CC-C coach

Former MSU Spartan Kenny Willekes addresses the Carson City-Crystal football team after a team conditioning practice Tuesday outside CC-C’s Community Fieldhouse. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

CARSON CITY – Tim Swore loves his football players; they love him back, unequivocally.

Jure taught his guys lessons of being good men, good husbands, good fathers, with lessons on the football field that are taken to the next chapters of life. For some guys Swore has coached over the past 15 years, those lessons have translated into dreams of playing college football or even the National Football League.

When Swore’s father, Chuck Swore, died on July 27, Tim reached out to some of his former NorthPointe Christian players to help lead conditioning workouts for the Carson City-Crystal football team.

He asked several guys to answer the call.

Jura attended and spoke at her father’s memorial service in Iowa on Monday. Meanwhile, former players Ben Farrell and Micah Visser — current Indiana Wesleyan starting offensive linemen — were in Carson City to help lead a practice for the Eagles ahead of camp opening Monday.

On Tuesday, Swore was back with the team and had two other former NPC players join him in CC-C. This time around, Jack Collins and former Michigan State Spartan and current Minnesota Viking Kenny Willekes joined in to help lead the Eagles’ practice.

Kenny Willekes, in MSU gear, watches CC-C quarterback Mason Smith engage in a push-up competition during a CC-C conditioning workout Tuesday outside Community Fieldhouse. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

“It means a lot to me because it’s been a tough time for me,” Swore said. “I wasn’t sure I could make it here today, but I was able to come back. (Collins and Willekes), these are guys who never hesitated to work hard. We preach how you handle adversity – that’s how you win football games. They embrace adversity and attack it. We have to have that mindset as a group.

Willekes faced tons of adversity while at Michigan State. He was an extra for the Spartans after being one of the best offensive players in the state in high school. MSU’s assistant coaches were impressed with Willekes’ work ethic and knew the program would do poorly without Willekes on the field.

It was then that former head coach Mark Dantonio gave the Rockford native the opportunity to start and be one of the main contributors to the Spartans during the program’s success at the end of the years. 2010. He was named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2018 after a stellar junior year with 20.5 tackles for loss. Willekes went on to win the 2019 Burlsworth Trophy, awarded to the nation’s most outstanding player who began his career as an extra.

“Michigan State was a perfect place for me,” Willekes said. “It’s kind of the same thing we were preaching today is that it comes down to hard work and tenacity. It’s the same preparation you do, you can’t just roll your helmet on Friday and expect to win games. You have to earn it in the offseason. You see the last two years that have been done here, and the preparation was the most important part.

Kenny Willekes rolls a tire in preparation for a tire flip drill in the parking lot Tuesday outside Community Fieldhouse in Carson City. Willekes was in practice for the Carson City-Crystal football team to help his former high school coach Tim Swore. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

Willekes was later selected in the seventh round (No. 225 overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was placed on injured reserve at the start of the 2020 season and played in six games in 2021, while he had totaled 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Through all the adversity, Willekes told the guys at their end of practice meeting that he transformed into a different person when he stepped between the white lines. He doesn’t care about anyone on the other side of football – he’s going to run in their faces.

Returning to the high school ranks and sharing those lessons with the youngsters was fun for Collins and Willekes.

“It’s very important to give back and it’s pretty cool to have the opportunity to come back with Coach Swore, obviously he’s done a lot for us,” Willekes said. “I’m just trying to get this message across, when a coach pushes you or when a coach is tough on you, he wants what’s best for you. Hopefully we were able to come back and show that to these kids and we had a great time working with them.

“The atmosphere (Swore) creates for all these kids and the kind of mentality he instills in them to turn kids into men is something I grew up with,” Collins said. “I’ve seen a lot of people grow up before me and the fact that he still does today says a lot about the kind of person he is.”

Collins, himself, had a solid career playing football at Mount Union University. He has since built a professional career as a personal trainer, working out in Washington, DC, and at a gym in Grand Rapids. Collins held numerous practices for the Eagles, including pushing weighted plates across a practice field and flipping giant tires in the parking lot, among other things.

Tim Swore, left, and Kenny Willekes, right, watch the Carson City-Crystal football team during practice Tuesday outside Community Fieldhouse. Willekes, a current member of the Minnesota Vikings, played for Swore at NorthPointe Christian in the mid-2010s. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

He has since moved to Traverse City and made the nearly three-hour trip to hang out with Swore and the Eagles.

Willekes and Collins have been best friends since their freshman year at NPC and have stayed connected throughout their college years and check in whenever Willekes is back in Michigan from Minnesota.

Collins said he was inspired by Willekes and enjoyed their friendship over the years.

“I always had the mentality, but I didn’t really have the physical part,” Collins said. “(Willekes) always had the mentality part and grew up on the physical part. Watching him grow was something a lot of kids obviously don’t have the ability to do, but he kept the same mentality as when he was just a little kid going from eighth grade to high school. It was good to see him stay true to his roots and keep the same competitive edge.

Willekes and Collins is part of the culture Swore has created over the past 15 years. This culture has led to professionals in the workforce and at the top level of professional football.

Seeing one of his guys get drafted, especially by the Minnesota Vikings, was especially sweet for Swore.

“Ironically, I’ve been a Viking fan all my life,” Swore said. “When Kenny went to see the Vikings, it was ‘Wow, that’s fantastic!’ There are 45-50 other youngsters like him that I have had the privilege of coaching who have achieved their dreams at various levels Some in Division I, Division II, Division III I have others guys who are doctors and lawyers now. Good husbands, that’s what you hope for.

“You realize that you had to create something that helped them love the game,” Swore continued. “For me, as a coach, I feel good that you had to do something good because they love football.”

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