Surrey’s ‘King’ Kongbo making top U.S. college football coaches drool

 

 
 
 
 
Jonathan Kongbo (No. 55 left) in action for Arizona Western College last season.
 
 

Jonathan Kongbo (No. 55 left) in action for Arizona Western College last season.

Photograph by: Craig Fry photo, .

METRO VANCOUVER — Surrey’s Jonathan Kongbo is one of the most wanted young men in America.

Everyone, it seems, is courting the King, as the self-styled King Kongbo refers to himself on Twitter.

The high and mighty in U.S. college football are swarming to Yuma, Ariz., home of Arizona Western College, where the defensive end/outside linebacker played his only season of junior college (JUCO) football in 2015. (Kongbo was a freshman in 2014 at the University of Wyoming, but didn’t play in his redshirt year and transferred out of the program). It’s a demonstration of the power of social media that the former student at Holy Cross regional secondary has become an irresistible magnet for those who run NCAA football’s multibillion-dollar industry.

Ranked nationally as the No. 1 junior college prospect, he even managed to get smirking, sober-sided Nick Saban to crack a rare smile when Kongbo posted a picture of them together. The head coach of the national champion Crimson Tide dropped in to Yuma this week, in hopes of persuading Kongbo to commit to Alabama.

The NCAA mandates that coaches abide by specific rules, such as not discussing recruits in the media. Kongbo is also declining interviews since he verbally committed to Tennessee in late November, then withdrew the commitment in early January, creating a stampede of coaches to his door.

One not bound by NCAA rules is Blake Nill of the Vanier Cup champion University of B.C. Thunderbirds. Nill, then at Calgary, tried to recruit Kongbo out of high school but lost him to Wyoming. Now, with America’s ranking college powers after him, there is scant hope of Kongbo playing in Canada.

“To be honest, the Kongbo situation is probably a long shot,” Nill says. “He’s categorized as a five-star recruit, the highest you can get. That’s the NCAA gold standard. He’s a great kid who can make a difference in any program. I’m going to be a fan now, wherever he ends up.”

Like many athletes these days, Kongbo is using social media to orchestrate his personal narrative and tease his followers. He’s having fun with it. The only people upset by his personal news service are the college football beat reporters who can’t get access to him and have to follow his “scoops” on Twitter.

From a list of about 25 or 26 major college offers, he has narrowed his choice to an elite eight — Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama, USC, Washington, Oklahoma, Florida State, Oregon. He’ll announce the final four (or five) next week and is expected to deliver his decision on National Signing Day — Feb. 3 — an event that is closer to Valentine’s Day but is considered more of a second Christmas for coaches re-stocking their programs with transcendent athletes such as Kongbo.

Thanks to Hudl, a video hosting service, coaches anywhere are just a few mouse clicks away from all the essential information on this freakish athlete — 6-6, 260 pounds, 37-inch vertical leap, a squat max of more than 700 pounds, a blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.69 seconds — and all the game video they require.

“He’s played one full year of football,” says Tom Minnick, Kongbo’s coach at Arizona Western. “He’s still very raw, but he gets better and better each time he plays. The biggest thing is he’s big — and he can run like a deer and track people down. That’s what the coaches love.”

Former Oregon Duck Bo Lokombo, a third-year linebacker with the CFL’s B.C. Lions, is trying to steer Kongbo to Eugene, where Lokombo arrived as a redshirt freshman in 2009 after graduating from W.J. Mouat secondary in Abbotsford. As did Kongbo, Lokombo moved to Canada with his family as a child to escape sectarian violence in the war-weary Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lokombo, who describes himself as Kongbo’s “cousin,” was recruited by 10 NCAA schools in his Grade 12 year. But the opportunity to stoke interest and offer an unfiltered, unique perspective direct from the athlete — bypassing the media as middle men — is so much greater now.

“There’s a lot more opportunity to brand yourself and promote yourself on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,” Lokombo says. “It can put you in an advantageous place, if you use it correctly. He’s his own marketing manager.”

Surrey’s Christian Covington, a defensive tackle taken in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Houston Texans, used his mom, Natasha, and younger sisters Asianna and Autumn in his advertising campaign while a Grade 12 student at Vancouver College. They sent out tapes and resumes to scores of NCAA schools. Most schools showed only mild interest, with Rice University the exception.

“They (his family) get the credit for me ending up at Rice (in Houston),” Covington says. “I wanted to go to a school where I was truly wanted. I got that feeling from Rice.”

If Kongbo’s PR tactics and airtight message control serve to stoke interest from a football-mad country, more power to him.

Until his Grade 12 year at Holy Cross, when Kongbo was recruited in the hallway by head coach Ken Buchan, he had yet to grasp America’s game, football. Basketball was his métier.

“It took three weeks to talk him into playing,” Buchan says. “He didn’t instantly love it. He got hurt, and then he quit. Slowly but surely, he reconsidered. After he became a first-team provincial (AA) all-star, he maybe had an idea what we were talking about.”

Those six games — the sum total of his high school football career — have led to what King Kongbo is now, just three years later: An American icon before he’s made a single major-college tackle.

mbeamish@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/sixbeamers

 
 
 
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Jonathan Kongbo (No. 55 left) in action for Arizona Western College last season.
 

Jonathan Kongbo (No. 55 left) in action for Arizona Western College last season.

Photograph by: Craig Fry photo, .

 
Jonathan Kongbo (No. 55 left) in action for Arizona Western College last season.
Jonathan Kongbo, right, with University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, one of many U.S. coaches trying to recruit him.
Jonathan Kongbo played one season of junior college football at Arizona Western College in Yuma, Ariz.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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