When Tanoh Kpassagnon was in sixth grade, there was a summer trip to visit friends in North Carolina that would end up changing the course of his life.
“I saw my friends playing it … I sat in on a practice, and I was playing soccer up to that point,” Kpassagnon said. “I asked my mom to sign up, and she was really against it, didn’t want me to do it.”
But Kpassagnon eventually signed himself up, and now, roughly 10 years later, he is officially an NFL player, as the former Villanova edge rusher was selected by the Chiefs in the second round (59th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft on Friday evening.
Kpassagnon (first and last name pronounced TAWN-oh pass-N-yo), is the first Villanova defensive player to be taken in the draft since Howie Long was taken in the second round by the Oakland Raiders in 1981.
It’s been a long road for Kpassagnon — who was not heavily recruited out of high school and only landed a scholarship at Villanova after a one-day camp at the school. He calls football the first thing he threw himself into and excelled at.
“I made some of my best friends I have until today, just students taking me to practice, showing me the game,” Kpassagnon said. “I’ve loved it every since.”
A two-year starter at Villanova, Kpassagnon impressed at the Senior Bowl in January. In 2016, he was a team captain who recorded 45 tackles — including a stunning 21 1/2 for loss — and 11 sacks. He’s also got a knack for blocking kicks, as he’s blocked three over the last two years.
The Chiefs were also attracted to Kpassagnon’s physical gifts. The 6-foot-7, 289-pounder has very long arms — 35 5/8 inches — and ran an impressive (given his size) 4.83 40-yard dash.
Kpassagnon — who gained 70 pounds over the course of his college career — also posted a 128-inch broad jump at the NFL Combine, among the top marks at his position.
He also has brains, to boot, as he was an accounting/finance double major at Villanova who had an internship with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Kpassagnon said the NFL became a realistic goal for him around his sophomore and junior year.
“My teammates were telling me like ‘Yo, look at you, you can do it — there’s no reason why you shouldn’t,’” Kpassagnon said.
Still, Kpassagnon says he was surprised to be taken by the Chiefs; he says he did not receive much attention from them during the pre-draft process.
“I might have had a couple interviews with them,” Kpassagnon said. “But I didn’t have any private workout. They showed interest, but not as much as other teams. It’s kind of a surprise.”
And while he admits he doesn’t know much about the Chiefs, he knows he will have an adjustment to make, going from FCS to the NFL.
“There’s no bad players in the NFL,” Kpassagnon said. “What I’ve heard is you’ll see how much time and how much work people put into it, and the results will show on the field.”
On the plus side, Kpassagnon said he did play in a 3-4 defense in college and is confident he can help the Chiefs on the edge.
“My speed and power have carried me through,” Kpassagnon said. “I just have to learn a little more technique, but I just have to take it to the next level.
“Just throw me out there. I’m ready.”
Chiefs day-three draft picks
11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN, NFL Network
5th round: No. 170, 180 & 183
6th round: No. 218
The book on Tanoh Kpassagnon
The Star’s Terez A. Paylor looked at two of Kpassagnon’s games before the draft (St. Francis 2016, South Dakota State 2016) and talked to draft analysts to write this scouting report:
TANOH KPASSAGNON, Villanova
Measurables: 6 feet 7, 289 pounds, 22 years old, 4.83-second 40-yard dash
Bio: Two-year starter who had 45 tackles (21 1/2 for loss), 11 sacks, three hurries and one pass deflection in 13 games in 2016. Has blocked three kicks the last two years.
Evaluation: Team captain. Outstanding combination of size, ridiculous length (35 5/8 -inch arms), athleticism and production. Imposing player who gobbles up ground quickly and has a real closing burst to the quarterback. Lined up against the tackle and guard in college. Plays hard. Has the look of an NFL starter as a 4-3 or 3-4 end who can reduce inside in passing situations. Did not regularly face top-end competition. Needs to refine his hand fighting, play stouter more consistently and improve his instincts in multiple facets.