Signee Update: Junior Gnonkonde

North Carolina signee Junior Gnonkonde was a true three-sport star for Lakeland (Ga.) Lanier County. Consequently, the 6-foot-4, 228-pounder was awarded Lanier County's prestigious "Iron Dog" Award.

"We give that to our senior athlete who is most valuable to our school," said John White, who is Lanier County's athletic director and Gnonkonde's legal guardian. "It goes to the one student who has made the most impact athletically. We do it on three sports and most of the time we do it on baseball, basketball, and football.

"But [Gnonkonde] did track, basketball, and football. He lettered four years in all three sports."

Not only did he letter in those three sports, Gnonkonde excelled.

In football Gnonkonde earned his third all-region selection and was named the region's defensive player of the year. On the season, he accumulated 119 tackles, including nine sacks.

Gnonkonde helped lead the basketball team to the GHSA Class A final four, losing to the eventual state champion. He was named all-state honorable mention while averaging nine points and ten rebounds a game.

"He was a defensive specialist more than anything for us," White said. "His coach that he had this year – we brought in a coach that had retired – he thought that Junior was the best defensive post player that he's ever coached."

For the track and field team, Gnonkonde won his fourth consecutive regional championship in the shot put.

Despite his accolades on the hardwood and track, Gnonkonde will focus solely on football at UNC. In preparation for that, he is working with a personal trainer who is applying a lot of the regimen UNC sent Gnonkonde to his daily workout.

"That's the only thing he wants to do right now is lift weights," White said. "He likes football, but his first passion might be lifting weights."

After dropping to about 210 pounds as a result of the basketball season, White estimates that Gnonkonde is up to 228 – ten pounds heavier than his senior football season playing weight.

According to White, Tar Heel assistant coach Vic Koenning has been in frequent contact with Gnonkonde since UNC ended spring football. Meanwhile, White personally speaks to Koenning once every two weeks and Joe Haydon, Director of Football Operations, every week as they finalize all of Gnonkonde's paperwork for enrollment in the second summer semester.

Despite being denied admission by Georgia Tech, White says Gnonkonde, who moved to the United States four years ago and for whom English is not his first language, is academically qualified according to the NCAA Clearinghouse and has cleared UNC admissions. Additionally, he has improved his academic situation the past few months.

"[Gnonkonde] already met with two academic people and they approved him to enter school with his test scores," White said. "Still, Junior has taken the ACT two more times and he has improved his test score. He's going to take the test again anyway to make it as high as we can… He struggles the most on the English part – his natural language is French."

Gnonknode was recruited to play the Bandit position in UNC's 4-2-5 defense.

"He's going to have a legitimate chance to play as a freshman," White said. "I think they're at least looking at him as a backup at that Bandit position.

"Coming from a small school, he's going to have to catch up to the speed level of everybody. We play kids that are fast, but now everybody is going to be fast. There's going to be a little adaptation."

White says Gnonknode has gazed over UNC's roster to determine his jersey number. Both numbers he wore in high school – 44 and 56 – are worn by current players.

"I told him don't worry about it," White said. "Just pick a number and you make the name for the number."

Junior Gnonkonde Profile

Inside Carolina Top Stories