KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jonathan Kongbo has been at Tennessee for months, but the former No. 1 junior college prospect was officially welcomed to the team earlier this week.
After two games, the freakish 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end got his black helmet stripe removed at practice Tuesday — the sign that he’s officially earned the respect of his teammates.
“The smile on his face when he got his stripe removed, that was something special,” Volunteers coach Butch Jones said.
“One of the greatest moments we’ve had so far this year. … To see the look in Jonathan’s eyes, and to hear him talk to the football team and how everyone has embraced him. Jonathan’s been an individual who has continued to grow and grow and grow. He’s continued to get better.”
Kongbo has just 1 tackle on the season, but the redshirt sophomore has flashed as a pass rusher, especially as a 3-technique tackle on 3rd-downs. He recorded a pair of hurries and a fumble recovery in the win over Virginia Tech and his initial reluctance to slide inside on occasion seems like an issue of the past.
“I was interesting myself in when (the stripe) was going to come off,” defensive line coach Steve Stripling said.
“I think it was partly a tribute to now he’s been in two games and his rep count is going up. I think if you looked at individual effort in the (Va. Tech) game, he and Darrell Taylor, as far as the defensive line, might have had the greatest effort in that game. The guys are seeing that, so they welcomed him to the team.”
With senior defensive end LaTroy Lewis missing the Ohio game with a high-ankle sprain, Kongbo will see increased playing time against the Bobcats — possibly even earning his first-career start.
“All the other players have done a great job of really taking him under their wings and helping him understand the standards and expectations,” Jones said.
“He has great instincts. He’s progressing. I’ve been really proud of him.”