KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The conversation and hype surrounding Tennessee defensive end Jonathan Kongbo turned mostly negative by the end of the 2016 season.
Kongbo has taken a quiet, workmanlike approach to his second season with the Vols with only four practices down and the 2017 season still a month away.
“I’m much more mature, this time around,” Kongbo said at a media availability Friday. “Just my work ethic. I don’t really tend to say too much. I just work and I guess that gets other people going, too.”
Kongbo came to Tennessee as a 4-star junior college transfer in the Class of 2016. The 247Sports composite rankings had Kongbo as the best JUCO player in the entire class.
The early success did not come as easily as Kongbo or Tennessee fans might have hoped. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive lineman tallied 11 tackles, 3 for a loss, in 2016.
Kongbo said a key in 2017 will be focusing on the positives instead of any negatives.
“Just to be more persistent,” Kongbo said. “There are times in life where things weren’t always going my way or I wasn’t having what I wanted. To just keep working and not get too down or hard on yourself. Look for the progress in things.”
Kongbo only began playing football as a senior in high school. And his high school principal had to threaten him with detention just to get him to play.
Kongbo attended Wyoming as a freshman and redshirted the year before transferring to Arizona Western College.
The journey means Kongbo had only two seasons of football game experience when he came to the Vols.
“I don’t like making excuses,” Kongbo said. “I wouldn’t say that’s a big factor, but it had something to do with it. Just being new to the game and being thrust into the SEC.
“This time around, I’m much more comfortable with it in my head.”
And his teammates have taken notice of that comfort. Senior safety Todd Kelly Jr. said he has seen how much Kongbo has worked.
“He works really hard,” Kelly said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. I don’t tell him that because he already knows that. When people do tell him that, he kind of just brushes it off and keeps it moving.
“He’s always working and work his craft.”