Jonathan Kongbo came rolling into Knoxville on the biggest hype train we have seen in years.
Or maybe it just CSX rumbling through campus in the middle of the night.
Kongbo entered Tennessee last year as a redshirt sophomore from British Columbia. He didn’t start playing football until his senior year at Holy Cross High School in Surrey, B.C. With only one year of experience, Kongbo was talented enough to sign with a D1 school (Wyoming).
However, he redshirted at Wyoming and eventually transferred to Arizona Western College. Things really began to pick up after that.
Kongbo soared in the recruiting rankings at AWC and became a 5-star recruit according to Rivals and Scout. He racked up 55 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks in just one season. He was named to the Arizona Community College Conference and Western States Football League first teams. He committed to Tennessee and all was right in Big Orange Country.
Then he decommitted.
He was picking up elite offers left and right. We’re talking from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Oklahoma, etc.
One offer, though, stood out and that was Ole Miss. The battle for Kongbo eventually came down to a Vols-Rebels showdown on National Signing Day. Fortunately, Butch Jones was able to walk down the Ray and Lucy Hand Studio steps with a customized Kongbo #1 jersey in hand. Kongbo committed once again to the Vols and signed, spurning the “holy man” down in Oxford. Coaches and fans were excited and had reason to be. The second coming of Derek Barnett, if not better, was on his way to Knoxville. He posted intense workout videos that mentioned beating Alabama. Tennessee knew they were getting a physical freak that could come in and provide immediate help along a star-studded defensive line.
That’s not what happened.
Kongbo appeared early in the season in certain situations, but never really impacted the game like most has predicted. Some games, he completely disappeared, as if he never even stepped on the field. Eventually, he had to play more downs due to injuries up front and even got moved out of position to defensive tackle. Where was this monster that was supposed to mirror Barnett on the opposite side? Where was this athlete that Vol fans had celebrated since February?
Kongbo didn’t have a bad year, per se, but it’s definitely not what fans had hoped for. His career highlight can really only be found in a pick six against Missouri last year (skip to 4:10)
Heading into 2017, the defensive line is in need of help…bad.
From various reports, Kongbo has been one of the most impressive players this spring (maybe forget the clip of Trey Smith beating him in a circle-of-life rep). He’s being counted on to step up as the defensive line’s leader with Barnett gone. Also, the defensive line is suffering some massive attrition thanks to injuries. We all know he has the potential and he’s shown some flashes. He was listed last fall as the team’s fastest lineman. He’s also got great size. However, he needs to step up and become Tennessee’s leading edge rusher.
Can Kongbo become king on the defensive line? There’s really not a whole lot to look at but with a new and proven defensive line coach in Brady Hoke, fans can only hope.