Late Addition to UNC's Board

With less than ten days before Signing Day, a new name has surfaced on North Carolina's recruiting radar – Junior Gnonkonde, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound athlete from Lakeland (Ga.) Lanier County.

Gnonkonde originally committed to Georgia Tech last February but had his offer recently pulled over an admissions snag.

"Based on what happened at Georgia Tech, before I would agree for anybody to see him or visit, I've asked the school to view his transcript, verify what his scores are, and [determine] would their college accept him as-is if he were to chose to come to that school," Lanier County athletic director John White said. "I've had six or seven schools that have looked at him and are interested.

"North Carolina has looked at his stuff and said that he met the NCAA qualifications… Coach [Vic Koenning] is supposed to be here Wednesday and I think they're going to ask for a visit this weekend."

UNC has yet to offer Gnonkonde, however, since Saturday morning, seven other schools have offered, including Central Florida, Florida, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Mississippi, and Wake Forest.

Gnonkonde has an official trip scheduled with Central Florida, primarily because it was the first school to offer him when Georgia Tech pulled its scholarship. And Louisiana Tech has asked him to officially visit Wednesday.

"He has to decide where he is going to take a visit to," White said. "… We might even decide to pass on the Feb. 1 deadline and just say ‘Look, it's too fast for us to make a choice.' But if [Gnokonde] decides [on a school], that's how we're going to go.

"If North Carolina said ‘We want him in Chapel Hill this weekend or the deal is off,' then Junior is going to have to make his mind up. Obviously that would eliminate somebody. But if they decide to offer, I'm 90-percent sure he'll be in Chapel Hill this weekend. "

Gnonkonde has an admitted high interest in UNC.

"I would put North Carolina in the top two [with Central Florida]," White said. "His first question to me was: Which one of these schools play Georgia Tech. To be perfectly honest, North Carolina has as good of a shot as anybody at him, because they're in the ACC and they play Georgia Tech. If I had to guess, if he likes the coaches and likes the campus, I would guess he'd go to North Carolina if they offer."

UNC's dilemma is that it made this week's staff recruiting plans without Gnonkonde on the board.

"[UNC] is like everybody else – [Koenning] has his head coach going one way, [Koenning] is trying to go another way, and [Koenning and Larry Fedora] both want to see Junior in person," White said. "… They're trying to get on Junior on a limited amount of stuff – we just put his tape together. I don't think [UNC] even had him on their recruiting board, because he's been committed for so long… They are trying to line everything up at the last minute."

Koenning is willing to drastically alter his schedule to see Gnonkonde because he's the prototypical "bandit" in UNC's 4-2-5 defense.

"[Koenning] said they lost their only recruit for that position," White said. "He said Florida nabbed him. [Gnokonde] is athletic, 6-5, 225 [pounds] – if they want to make him 265, 270 [pounds] they can, he just has that kind of body on him. [Koenning] wants to keep him at 235 so he could be that bandit guy. And he said [Gnokonde] has a chance to come in and play right away. They're thinking he could come in and make an impact fast."

In addition to his ability on the field, Gnokonde is a model off it.

"Georgia Tech is not just losing a kid that's probably the best athletic body I've ever coached, they are probably losing one of the best kids I've ever known personally," White said. "This kid has impeccable character. He's just a great kid. He has a better character than my two boys."

Georgia Tech withdrew its scholarship offer at 4 p.m. on Friday.

"Junior is coming from Africa and he's only been in the [United States] for four years and he speaks French," White said. "On the ACT, he didn't do so hot, but his grades are very good. After four years, he's pretty good at speaking English, but the English language is hard for [people that have grown up without it]. So his English portion of the ACT was almost nonexistent… But his SAT score was high enough on [the NCAA Clearinghouse's] sliding scale that he qualifies to play Division I-A football."

Each individual college has its own admissions requirements. Even though Gnonkonde is academically qualified by the NCAA Clearinghouse, Gnonkonde didn't clear Georgia Tech's admissions.

"He has only taken the test one time – last spring – and nobody told us to take it again," White said. "… I've been in touch with Georgia Tech for 11 months and nobody ever told us there was a red flag."

After being committed for so long, Gnonkonde and his inner circle panicked when the offer was pulled.

"Our deal with Paul Johnson was: you can't talk, visit, or communicate with any other college, and if we find out you do, we're going to withdraw your offer," White said. "So for the last 11 months, we've had contact with nobody. I panicked and just got it out to the media. So I called everybody to get word out that this kid was available."

Junior Gnonkonde Profile


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