By Mike Beamish, Vancouver Sun
SURREY — Unintentional football star Jonathan Kongbo has a connection, albeit a few degrees of separation, with the two starting quarterbacks in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
As Peyton Manning, now with the Denver Broncos, did in 1994, Kongbo has committed to the University of Tennessee, an announcement the 6-5, 260-pound defensive end/outside linebacker made Wednesday on National Signing Day, an annual ritual in U.S. college sports.
And, like Carolina Panthers starter Cam Newton, Kongbo’s stock took off after spending a year at junior college. Dropped by the University of Florida in connection with a stolen laptop computer, Newton plotted his return to NCAA Division I football at Blinn JC, leading the small school in Brenham, Texas to a national title.
Kongbo, who didn’t play football until his Grade 12 year at Holy Cross regional secondary in Surrey, became the top junior college prospect in the U.S. at Arizona Western Community College, in Yuma, Ariz.
As a freshman in 2015, Kongbo’s predatory instincts and closing speed came to national attention with the Matadors, with whom he recorded 49 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. After verbally committing to Tennessee, Kongbo announced he was de-committing from the Volunteers in early December. A host of other schools piled in to the recruiting chase.
From more than two dozen suitors, including national champion Alabama, Kongbo narrowed his short list to four — Tennessee, Ole Miss, Southern California and Florida State.
For Tennessee, the original choice, he represents a great get. Described by Scout.com as a “program-changing type of addition on the defensive front,” Kongbo joins a school coming off its first nine-win season since 2007 in the hyper-competitive SEC conference, considered a path to the pros. He will enter the 2016 season with three years of NCAA eligibility remaining.
Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kongbo moved to Canada as a child when his family’s security was compromised by a civil war in that central African country.
His father, Joachim, has a degree in agricultural sciences and works as an inspector for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Originally hoping to make his name in basketball, Jonathan was leaned on by coaches Ken Buchan, Conrad Deugau and Holy Cross principal Chris Blesch to transition to football in Grade 12. They believed his size and speed would give him greater possibilities for a college scholarship on the gridiron.
Holy Cross, situated in the Fleetwood area of Surrey, wished to have Kongbo’s signing formalized at the school. Having missed considerable class time on his recruiting junkets, however, he had to pass on the idea and buckle down with his studies. Kongbo still requires junior college credits to attend Tennessee, where his academic interest lies in criminology.
“I think he’s probably the most recruited kid out of Canada — ever,” Buchan said. “It would have been a nice school promotion, a recognition thing to have him sign here, for his mom and dad and family, and to show kids from here that you can make it.”