When you're 6-foot-7 and the best football player on campus, you don't get to hide from the attention. Future NFL draft pick Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova has come from 'ignored' to 'the spotlight' in just a few short years.
The star defensive end is just one of the incredible cogs that make the Wildcats' defense go. When Villanova played bowl-bound Pitt in the season opener, he had two tackles for loss, a blocked kick, and a quarterback hurry. The Wildcats allowed 28 points to the-nationally ranked Panthers, who went on to score more 43 on Clemson, 39 on Penn State, 38 on Oklahoma State and 36 on Virginia Tech.
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Kpassagnon, a cornerstone of that defensive wall, is the cerebral defensive lineman whose mother was born in Uganda and whose father was born in the Ivory Coast. His road to Villanova wasn't a well-worn path. There was no line of Big Ten or ACC head coaches snaking around the corner of his home or his high school coach's office. But Villanova loved him, and today the CAA's Defensive Player of the Year sends the love right back. All 22 career sacks' worth.
"My high school (Wissahickon in Pennsylvania) isn't a big high school, but coach (Mark) Ferrante found me," Kpassagnon told HERO Sports. "After he started looking at me, some other schools in the CAA and Temple and Princeton started looking at me. But once I saw Villanova, it was the perfect fit. It was closer to home, too. I didn't know that was part of my mom's (Winifred Wafuoyo) motivation until after I'd signed, but that was big, too. I liked the business school and my studies gravitated towards that. That was a big motivator and I liked the coaches a lot."
Recruiting success stories like this are one of the reasons Ferrante will take over for legendary Villanova head coach Andy Talley following this season. What Ferrante discovered was a defensive end with great speed and quickness for his unique size, a true athlete with an outstanding head on his shoulders. Couple that with a good work ethic in the weight room and a great staff to guide him, and you've got an NFL Draft pick.
Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon imitates a defensive heat-seaking missle (Credit Villanova Athletics)
NFLDraftScout.com has Kpassagnon rated as the No. 15 defensive end prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft. And they have a big red arrow pointing up in the 'trending' notation. A defensive end hovering around No. 15 could be a middle to late-round draft pick, depending of course on all of the other prospects.
Maybe that's why the prestigious Senior Bowl invited him a long time ago. Last week, Kpassagnon accepted that invitation and could see his NFL draft stock soar with a good showing in workouts and in the game. A ceiling doesn't seem to exist for this success story.
"I would say my end goal when I first came here wasn't exactly to be in the NFL," Kpassagnon said. "I knew that if I worked hard at anything something good could come from it, and I would say that if you have the talent it'll show no matter where you play. I heard stories every day about guys from D2 and D3 teams buying into the system and having good things happen. Most of all, if you're looking out only for yourself, it may not happen. But if you buy in, if you're one of those guys, you'll get spotted."
Now obviously we're getting ahead of ourselves talking about the NFL because Villanova's defense has a massive task ahead of it this weekend. If the Wildcats want to knock off a high-powered South Dakota State pass offense that features its own NFL Draft prospects (2019 QB Taryn Christion and WR Jake Wieneke and TE Dallas Goedert of 2018 class), Kpassagnon's disruptive style of play must be a key part of making it happen. If the weather's cold or windy or (gulp) snowing, those conditions plus this defense could spell an upset of a seeded FCS team. As of today, those weather conditions don't seem likely, but you never know.
And with or without challenging weather, there will be a challenge with the Wildcats.
"We all fly to the ball, and (defensive coordinator) coach (Billy) Crocker tells us he wants all of us in the video frame when he checks the film afterwards," Kpassagnon said. "Our motto is just do your job. Doing 1/11th is all you need to do and that's worked out for us. I guess we do recruit some pretty bright guys … It helps to have smart guys. We have dawgs on this team, guys who are not afraid to get down and dirty, you know?"
They'll be ready for Brookings, South Dakota this Saturday.