Jonathan Kongbo: Now is the time

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

In Jonathan Kongbo’s own words, “My vision has never been so clear. It is time to accomplish what I came here to do.”


Hey, don’t go away. Stay with me for three minutes. I understand your skepticism. You believe you know where this is going and can guess how it ends.

No doubt you have heard the sneers, how Kongbo looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane. That is unkind. He hasn’t done much in two seasons at Tennessee but Tennessee is partly to blame. Previous coaches couldn’t decide if he was a defensive end or tackle. Jonathan found double-teams do make a difference.

Of course, fans have been confused. Kongbo has never played anywhere near “potential.”

It is possible that potential was overstated. Expectations may have been unreasonable.

You remember how we got to where we are? He was the No. 1 junior college catch in the country, 6-5 and 247, not a possible or a maybe, the real deal, a terrific story, a kid from the Congo with a smart father who gave up a really good job and moved the family far away to escape conflict and possible death.

First stop for Jonathan was Surrey, British Columbia, then the University of Wyoming and Arizona Western College and Tennessee.

From the beginning, the boy was bigger than everybody and very athletic. He won foot races. He learned to play basketball. His team won. He was talked into football as a high school senior. Oh my, was he ever raw.

Teammates were afraid to hit him. What if he got angry? Jonathan was afraid to hit them. He didn’t want to hurt anybody.

Eventually, he got the hang of it. He played eight games. He had five sacks in one. He didn’t know all the rules but he finished as a Provincial All-Star, first team. He heard about college scholarships and all-America plaques and the National Football League. He dared to dream.

People were constantly whispering in his ears. He could get drafted in the first round some day and become a multi-millionaire.

By the time Tennessee heard about him and entered the recruiting race, Jonathan Kongbo knew who he was, still learning to play the game but a great prospect who could pick his place. He looked seriously at 25 offers, including eight from SEC schools.

Invitations came from far and wide, Arizona State, Florida State, Ohio State, USC.

Jonathan released a list of eight favorites. Oregon was his leader that day. Alabama, Oklahoma and Washington were “rising.”

In time, Florida State thought it had won. Ole Miss, as late as the evening before signing day, thought he was going to be a Rebel.

Without hard hat or pads, Kongbo made an early impact as a Volunteer. Confidence took root, grew and expanded into bravado.

Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor, outstanding trash-talker, made a bunch of noise about how the Gators would beat the Vols as usual and even poked fun at the great Peyton Manning for never winning the big one. Kongbo took the bait.

“I just kind of laughed at what he said because I know we’re going to beat Florida. I know we’re going to beat Alabama. We’re going to beat all those teams. So I’ll say right now, we’re going to beat every team we play. We’re just as good and talented as anybody out there.”

Butch Jones had a rapid reaction: “We have talked about respect for opponents.”

The coach softened his criticism of talking too much: “Jonathan is a great young man, very high character.”

UT coaches never decided what they had. He was a defensive end, rush the passer. Maybe he could be a tackle, just add weight and throw those blockers around.

Accomplishments were anemic.

It seems Jeremy Pruitt got a grip on the situation. Kongbo prefers to play outside. The coach labeled him an outside linebacker. Sounds good. Jonathan was allowed to lose a few pounds. Feels good. No doubt he can now run much faster.

Outside linebackers are supposed to be versatile athletes who can rush and perhaps frighten quarterbacks. They must also contain sweeps which means fight off mean blockers and turn runners inside. Now and then they get to drop off and play zone pass defense.

Won’t that be exciting!

Motivation is all around. It’s now or never. Kongbo is a senior. This is his last chance to achieve greatness at our institution of higher learning. How he finishes will mean money – or more money.

The end? To be determined. Believe me, this story is not over.

Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

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