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Villanova's Kpassagnon eager to make leap to the NFL

FOR VILLANOVA'S Tanoh Kpassagnon, football is no longer just a game. For him, it's become very much a business, which hopefully will dominate his life over the next decade or so.

FOR VILLANOVA'S Tanoh Kpassagnon, football is no longer just a game. For him, it's become very much a business, which hopefully will dominate his life over the next decade or so.

Good thing he already has earned degrees in finance and accounting.

"I mean, I think that'll help me manage my money later on," he said matter-of-factly Monday morning at Temple's indoor practice facility, where he, several former teammates and a handful of players from other local teams were doing their thing for a pro-day gathering of NFL scouts and position coaches. "It's cool. I wasn't, like, highly recruited in high school (at Wissahickon) or anything, so this is all new. I'm just taking it in and enjoying it."

What's not to appreciate? The 6-7, 290-pound defensive end is being projected as a second- or third-round pick in next month's draft. This, for someone who almost didn't even go to a Villanova camp (or any camp) because his mother had signed him up for a Future Business Leaders of America conference in Florida that same summer. Now he's considered a physical freak, in a good way. His were among the biggest hands measured at the recent NFL Scouting Combine. Ditto his wingspan. And his standing broad jump of 10 feet, 8 inches set a record for someone his size. Nobody weighing that much had ever surpassed 10 feet.

"One of the coaches today said to me that he's going to be a diamond in the rough," noted new Villanova coach Mark Ferrante. "Or the sleeper of this draft. He feels anybody that takes him, in a couple of years may have the steal of the draft.

"We're just lucky he ended up at our camp instead of someone else's."

His hour or so under the microscope Monday was mostly about doing positional drills for pro assistants. Yet it was as much about the mental side as anything else. They wanted to see how far they could push him, and/or whether they could break him. Kpassagnon appeared to respond favorably to all their assorted tests and then some.

"They're not always going to give you pats on the back," Ferrante said. "They're going to be screaming at you, seeing how you follow directions, how quick you can pick stuff up. If they give you a command, can you carry out that command? They look at body language. Can a guy that size bend, extend, accelerate, play with leverage, get low, change direction?

"He can."

In one drill, Kpassagnon ran through a figure eight at full speed, picking up a tennis ball midway around, then placing it back down a little later. Without missing a stride. For a good 30 minutes, they pushed him hard. And he pushed right back, just as firmly.

By this point in the process, he's getting used to it. Over the weekend he spent four hours in the classroom with two teams just doing blackboard work.

"They're making an investment in me," Kpassagnon, 22, acknowledged. "They have to see what they're getting. So I'm kind of prepared for it. At the combine, they slap a number on you, get you measured, do the physical examinations. That's crazy. It's like a meat market. Just guys pulling at you for a couple of days. This is intense.

"When you're getting ready for the combine, you're training to be a track athlete pretty much. Like a sprinter. Now it's different. You have to get back in football shape . . . I'm just trying to prove that I belong."

The highest a Wildcat ever was taken was 48th. That was defensive end Howie Long in 1981, which worked out pretty well for the Raiders. In the program's modern era, that distinction is held by offensive tackle Ben Ijalana, who went 49th six years ago and just signed a new contract with the Jets. So some history could be at stake, not that Kpassagnon is making that a priority.

"I just see this as another opportunity to do better," said Kpassagnon, who also had private workouts with several teams, with more scheduled.

"If I'm not doing something right, I want to do it right. I'm happy to do that. I need somebody yelling at me. They want to see if guys are willing to compete. That's a big thing. Because I think a lot of guys feel like they made it when they make it to the league or just make it to this point. I want to show I love this, in everything I do. Wherever I go, I'm going to ball.

"I didn't grow up watching football, or playing that much. I've just continued to work hard. Coming from Villanova, I have to prove I can play with the big boys. I think I've shown that. The combine was like a dream. The Senior Bowl was a dream. Then I actually did it. It's a lot when you're doing it. Everything's coming at you fast-paced. You're not ready to soak it all in. Looking back, it's awesome. You just want to keep going. I want to be great.

"People see me with my degrees and say I really don't need football. But I need football. They don't know how much I need it. It's become part of me. Everybody has a job they want to do. It becomes part of their identity. This has made me look at myself. You're getting asked questions you never really thought about on an everyday basis before. They're trying to know you, get inside of you. It's almost like a documentary, a history of myself."

His world will never be the same. It's the path he's chosen. Or maybe the one that chose him. Welcome to the profession.

"It's bittersweet," he conceded. "I'm not always rushed now, I can set my own schedule. At Villanova, it was mapped out for me. Now it's more on me. It's my making.

"I can't even get into the (Wildcats) offices anymore. My access card's not working. I mean, they still let me in."

He's probably earned a lifetime pass. Nonetheless, the Main Line part of his timeline is behind him. The real game is on.