Jonathan Kongbo woke up on Feb. 3 with the biggest decision of his life looming. The Scout five-star defensive end vaguely knew where he wanted to make his new college football home, but the decision swirled in his mind throughout the day. When he awoke at 10 a.m. to dozens of texts and missed calls, he knew National Signing Day would be one he wouldn't soon forget.
"I opened my phone and had all these missed calls," Kongbo said. "Honestly that morning, I knew I wanted to go to Tennessee but I wasn't sure. I kind of woke up not knowing where I wanted to go. I finally made that decision."
The decision involved four schools — Florida State, Ole Miss, Tennessee and USC — and the destination of Kongbo's future. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound prospect whittled down a long offer list to those choices, and on signing day, he was poised to finally ink his future. After much consideration and an intense last-minute recruiting effort by the Seminoles, Kongbo picked the Vols.
"I built a good relationship with coach Jones and his supporting staff like coach (Steve) Stripling, coach (Bob) Shoop, coach (Robert) Gillespie," Kongbo told InsideTennessee. "We formed a good relationship. That kind of played a big factor into it."
He also relished the chance to get immediate playing time on a defensive line that boasts sophomore studs like Kahlil McKenzie and junior All-SEC edge rusher Derek Barnett. The Arizona Western College star saw the trajectory of the program after an 8-4 regular season culminated in an Outback Bowl drubbing of then-No. 13 Northwestern and believes he'll join a program primed to make a serious run at an SEC championship in 2016.
"Obviously I'll have to compete for that, but there's obviously an opportunity there," Kongbo told IT. "I'd also have to say the timing. I feel like the program's headed in the right direction. Essentially everyone from the defense and offense is coming back. You can make a good championship run with that team."
Before his final decision was made, Kongbo spoke with several members of Tennessee's current team, including McKenzie, Barnett, cornerback Cam Sutton and running back Jalen Hurd. He also spoke on the phone with running back Alvin Kamara, a fellow junior college transfer who was able to connect with what Kongbo was going through.
"Alvin was telling me, because he came from a junior college as well, he was telling me that Tennessee was a good place, that they're going to look out for me and it's a great opportunity," Kongbo said. "He said it was the place to be."
The No. 5 overall junior college player in Scout's 2016 rankings was also attracted to the winning culture he saw permeating out of the locker room. Jones and the staff haven't run from expectations heading into the upcoming season, and that was something Kongbo liked to see.
The newest piece to Tennessee's defensive unit will wear No. 1 when he joins the team, with the current numberholder, McKenzie, switching to No. 99 due to a suggestion by Jones.
"He was like, 'Well, No. 1 is available,'" Kongbo said. "I was like, 'Isn't that Kahlil's?' He was like, 'Yes, but he's switching to No. 99 so you can have it.' Coach Jones pretty much gave it to me."
Contrary to earlier reports, Kongbo said he has signed his letter of intent and is waiting on his father to also sign it, which he said should be coming "soon." Once that happens, the newest defensive end with a new number and new home will get to work on an old pastime.
"(Jones) already sent me the playbook and all that, so I'm already ahead of that," Kongbo told IT. "I'm looking at the film and all that, what they do on defense. I'm mainly ready to get hands-on work with coach Stripling and getting in the weight room to get bigger, faster, stronger and be with my teammates."