Jerardi: DE Tanoh Kpassagnon ready to make impact - at 'Nova and beyond

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Villanova's head coach Andy Talley.

His mother, a chemical scientist at McNeil in Fort Washington, grew up in Uganda. His father is an economist in his native Ivory Coast. So what exactly was their 6-7, 290-pound son doing Tuesday morning in Villanova Stadium at football practice, being watched by several NFL scouts on another steamy day?

It was the summer of sixth grade when he went to visit a friend in North Carolina, where he lived before moving to Ambler. He saw his friend playing football and, "I was, like, 'Mom, I want to play football.' "

Certainly, Villanova senior defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon looked very much like a football player even then. His mom, Winifred Wafuoyo, however, was not thrilled with the idea.

"I had to beg her," Kpassagnon said. "I signed up myself. She made me do all the paperwork. I got on our middle-school team, and that's the story from there."

Kpassagnon came to Villanova to play tight end. He took a redshirt year and it became pretty clear what he was going to become.

"Tanoh was a very good basketball player at Wissahickon," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "Obviously, 6-7, and skinny, we felt that he could morph into what he is now."

They got him in the weight room and taught him how to play defensive end. The speed and agility was still there. Last year, he had 9 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. He blocked two kicks. He is on preseason All-America teams.

"He is in our business school, so he's smart as can be," Talley said. "And carries that over to the field."

In addition to football and basketball, Kpassagnon was also a track and field athlete in high school. He started running hurdles, the 200 and 400 and ended up throwing the shot, discus and javelin.

Hurdles?

"In middle school, I was the only one that could get over the hurdles," Kpassagnon said, smiling.

Patrice Kpassagnon Tagro and Winnie Wafuoyo met at Ohio State. Their son was born in Michigan and also has lived in Ohio and North Carolina.

His father, Kpassagnon said, heads any "major sewage or construction" in Ivory Coast, where he lives. Kpassagnon sees his father in the summers. His mom, he said, wanted him to be a scientist, but he is studying finance and looking to make some money playing football.

"Last year, I started hearing (NFL) buzz and stuff," Kpassagnon said. "Definitely coming in, I was not really expecting it. I was, like, 'I'm all right at football.' My mom is really hard on education, so the business school was a big factor in me coming in."

He liked football, didn't really fall in love with it until he got hurt and had to miss six games in 2014.

"I was sad for no reason and then I realized I'm not playing football, that's why," Kpassagnon said.

He said: "I pretty much bruised every ligament in my knee except my ACL. That was the good news they had for me."

Kpassagnon came to football for a very basic reason.

"I like hitting people," he said. "I'm not like a violent person, but it's a chance to release some stress; just the team atmosphere, too. I'm kind of an introvert naturally, but, my freshman year, I automatically had 90 other dudes I could go to like friends. It was a cool thing. I'm good at it. If you're good at something, it's pretty fun."

If NFL scouts are at practice watching him, there is no doubt Kpassagnon is good at football. How he does in his final year will determine his NFL status.

"The question was: Could he get bigger and still play at the same level?" Talley said. "He did. He put the weight on. He continued to be aggressive, continued with the agility and the speed. When you have a 260-pound defensive lineman, as opposed to a 290 that can do the same things . . . "

Talley thinks Kpassagnon "will be able to line up against some of the big (NFL offensive tackles) and hang in there."

That is for 2017. First, there is one final college football season for Tanoh Kpassagnon, a chance to hang with teammates, win some games and perhaps even influence some people who make decisions about who gets drafted into the NFL and when.


jerardd@phillynews.com

@DickJerardi