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Jonathan Kongbo is ready to put the hype past him and produce for Tennessee

Kongbo was the top-ranked JUCO prospect last season. This season, he is expected to replace former star defensive end Derek Barnett.

NCAA Football: Tennessee Tech at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers lost several stars this offseason. The Vols said goodbye to quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Josh Malone among others. While all three of those players are significant losses, probably the biggest departure was defensive end Derek Barnett.

Barnett will probably go down as one of the best defenders to ever play at Tennessee. The 6-foot-3, 260 pound end and projected first round draft pick in this year’s NFL Draft left Knoxville as Tennessee’s all-time sack leader with 33 career sacks. That record used to belong to Volunteer legend and Hall of Famer Reggie White, just to show how incredible Barnett was.

Barnett’s leaves some pretty big shoes to fill. However, during spring practice, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and his staff may have found a suitable replacement in former No. 1-ranked junior college signee Jonathan Kongbo.

Kongbo had a solid first season in Knoxville. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive lineman recorded 11 tackles and a sack in all of Tennessee’s 13 games. Not only that, but Kongbo returned an interception off Missouri quarterback Drew Lock for a 59-yard touchdown.

However, there can always be improvements.

Kongbo is a natural defensive end. But last season, he played out of position at defensive tackle as the Volunteers battled through injuries. Although it wasn’t ideal for Kongbo to play out of position, it is all apart of the maturation process.

Kongbo can be described as a world-class traveler so far during his short life. He was born in the Congo before moving to Canada when he was five years old. He didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school at Holy Cross H.S. in Surrey, British Columbia. Kongbo stood out during his six games as a varsity player, then received an offer and committed to the Wyoming Cowboys. However, his time in Wyoming was short lived.

After redshirting during his first season as a Cowboy, he transferred to Arizona Western College, where he played before arriving at Tennessee. At Arizona Western, Kongbo attracted the likes of Alabama, Florida, Florida State and so on. Entering last season as the top-ranked JUCO prospect, Kongbo felt there was some pressure surrounding him to perform. Entering the 2017 season, he knows how to handle the hype around him.

The stage at Tennessee is vastly different than the ones at Wyoming and Arizona Western. But with a year of experience under his belt along with moving back to natural position, Jonathan Kongbo end should be able to produce more for the Volunteers in 2017.