MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – He wasn’t the most highly-touted addition of the WVU football program’s 2022 recruiting class, but he is without question the recruit with the most FBS playing experience.
Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 218 pounds of what appears to be pure muscle, he also might be the most imposing recruit landed by Neal Brown and company in the most recent recruiting cycle.
He is linebacker Lee Kpogba.
“Lee’s playing well,” said inside linebacker coach Jeff Koonz. “[I’m] excited about what he brings — the dimension that he brings to the defense. He’s a physical kid.”
Kpogba spent the first two seasons of his collegiate career at Syracuse, where he collected a total of 44 tackles.
After spending one season at East Mississippi Community College, he entered the transfer portal as one of the highest-rated junior college prospects in the country. With two years of eligibility remaining, Kpogba chose to join the Mountaineers, and he’s been making a good impression since the first day of practice this spring.
“I think he has a bright future,” Brown said following the first practice in March. “He runs. We need his speed at that spot. He did some nice things here in Day One.”
Brown believed that Kpogba had the ability to set himself apart early. In fact, the linebacker was one of three early enrollees that Brown was most excited to watch during the spring.
The head coach’s hunch has proven to be correct, so far, due to Kpogba’s athleticism and work ethic.
“He never has a bad day. He’s attacked workouts. He’s really done a nice job learning, so I am excited for him because man, he’s going to get so many reps,” Brown said before the start of spring practice. “We start March 22. How much better is he going to get by April 23?”
According to coaches and players, Kpogba is progressing. He’s slotted in the Mike linebacker spot, meaning he’s expected to be one of the leaders of the defense when the regular season begins on Sept. 1.
“He enjoys the game. His love for the game is contagious,” Koonz said. “When you watch Lee practice…it takes about three seconds to figure out how much he loves football. So, that’s fun to coach. It’s fun to play next to.”
While his love for the game has become apparent to the coaching staff, Kpogba’s competitiveness has shown, as well.
Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley had this to say about his new linebacker before spring practices got underway:
“He’s ultracompetitive. I think I saw him talking trash to a tire the other day as he was flipping it. So, he didn’t have to have a competition from a human, you know?” said Lesley. “He’s got that mentality that you want at that position.”
Lesley spoke highly of Kpogba’s leadership abilities. He added that, even though the transfer linebacker is new to the roster, he hasn’t been afraid to speak up. Nor has Kpogba shied away from admitting when he’s made a mistake.
“He kind of has his natural leadership abilities,” said WVU’s defensive coordinator.
It’s not just the coaches that Kpogba has been impressing. His teammates are seeing all of the same qualities.
“I like him a lot,” said redshirt-junior linebacker Lance Dixon last month. “[Kpogba is] playing in space very well.”
Dixon added that one thing that will help Kpogba early in his tenure with the Mountaineers is the experience and knowledge of the defensive line. That, of course, includes veteran lineman Dante Stills, who has also taken notice of WVU’s newest hard-hitting linebacker.
“He’s active, he’s very active,” Stills said last month.
Kpogba and WVU are now eight practices into the spring season. Even as a new addition, the middle linebacker is easy to spot on the practice field.
Sharing a number with freshman quarterback Nicco Marchiol, both Number 8s will stand out on the gridiron.
The goal is for Kpogba to continue progressing throughout the rest of the spring.
“I’m pleased with where he is. [We] have more work to do with him, but I’m excited about the track that he’s on right now,” said Koonz.