MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With one week of spring practice remaining for West Virginia’s football team, Neal Brown reserves the right to change his mind.
To this point, however, Brown has high praise for linebacker Lee Kpogba, who the Mountaineers’ fifth-year head coach believes is making major strides ahead of his second season at WVU.
“From where he was last spring to where he is this spring,” Brown said, “he’s made the most improvement.“
Brown believes a special 2023 season could be in store for Kpogba. How special?
“He has a chance to be an all-league type player,” Brown said.
As the Mountaineers’ top tackler with 92, Kpogba was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selection in 2022. He added 5.5 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks, and while the numbers were respectable, there was plenty of room for growth.
Earlier this spring, linebackers coach Jeff Koonz touched on the importance of the linebackers as a whole improving their fundamentals, which is another step in Kpogba’s development.
“It kind of gets to be coach speak, but it’s the truth. It’s what we’ve focused on the most and with Lee especially,” Koonz said. “He’s really done a nice job of focusing on his footwork, which is something that we watched from last season that got him in trouble at times. He’s done a nice job of committing to that and being consistent with that.”
The coaching staff has seen much of what they hoped to from Kpogba over the first 12 practices this spring, which the Mountaineers will wrap up in the week ahead by practicing Tuesday and Thursday in advance of Saturday’s annual Gold-Blue Game.
“Being comfortable in the scheme is so important,” Brown said. “He feels very confident, but his body control, he has less wasted movement and he’s a box linebacker. He’s not running himself out of plays. He’s reading his keys better. He’s just more comfortable and playing with more confidence.”
The 6-foot-1, 231 pound Kpogba has not only been praised for less wasted movement, but also better movement as a whole.
“He’s playing physical. His body is in a good place. You can tell the strength had a great offseason with him and he’s still working on some of the flexibility things and core stability to help him change direction even better than what he was,” Koonz said. “I’m pleased that he’s kind of picked up where he left off and he made strides from the end of last year.”
Kpogba’s journey to Morgantown was a unique one in that he began his college football career at Syracuse, where he saw action as a true freshman and spent two seasons. He wound up transferring to East Mississippi Community College and helped the Lions to a 9-1 season in 2021 by leading them in tackles with 84.
Aspiring to get back to playing Division I football, specifically in a Power 5 Conference, Kpogba wound up at West Virginia, where he started all 12 games as a junior in his first season with the program.
Kpogba made a solid initial impression with the Mountaineers to the point they entrusted him starting every contest and playing even more than an ideal number of snaps.
“We played him too much last year and that was out of necessity,” Brown said. “He had to play almost every snap and you’d like for him to play about two-thirds of the snaps and I think that will help him.”
Despite a significant lower body injury to true freshman Josiah Trotter that Brown revealed is likely to sideline a true freshman in the mix for playing time at mike linebacker for the season, the head coach maintains he’s comfortable with the team’s depth at that spot in hopes of reducing Kpogba’s snap count.
“I feel pretty good about that,” Brown said. “Trey Lathan is there. Caden Biser has grown into where he can play. We stole some snaps with him last year. I feel like we’re going to be fine from a depth perspective.”