Season recap: Masengo Kabongo
The senior season of Maryland defensive tackle commitment Masengo Kabongo was not without its fair share of adversity.
Fairfield (Conn.) Prep was 3-1 heading in to an Oct. 12 date with Cheshire, but the Jesuits suffered a humbling 42-7 loss that day. According to Fairfield Prep head coach Rich Magdon, the entire team played “terrible” -- Kabongo included. But Magdon’s star defensive tackle, a 3.3 student, may have been distracted thanks to an academic issue at school.
“I’ll tell you what; he got in a jam in school that day,” Magdon said. “He had a real big test the last period of the day. He said he wasn’t prepared for it, he went into the teacher’s classroom two periods before and said he didn’t feel good.”
But Kabongo felt just fine, and somehow the teacher got wind of his excuse. That revelation earned Kabongo a trip to the Dean of Students office.
“He got ripped,” Magdon said. “That might have deflated him on that given day.”
That didn’t excuse his poor play that day, said Magdon, but for an academically-conscious kid like Kabongo, it was certainly something that weighed on his mind.
Kabongo and Fairfield regrouped and rallied following the Cheshire loss, winning their last five games to finish the season at 8-2. While it wasn’t enough to earn a playoff berth, Magdon felt the Cheshire loss was a turning point for his team, and Kabongo.
“Well he responded by playing with more enthusiasm and more intensity,” Magdon said. “He had a good season. Against the run he was very, very tough. A lot of teams would try him and then just go the other way. Very few people would run at him with a lot of success and they wouldn’t even try it. They’d test him early and then go away from him. He didn’t have as many sacks as last season, but they ran away from him.”
Kabongo recorded 47 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 8 quarterback knockdowns and 3 forced fumbles on the season.
While his statistics were down from his junior season, Kabongo’s performance and potential has kept other schools to continue courting the future Terp. Magdon still receives mail inquiring about Kabongo from Miami, Oregon, Penn State, Purdue and Virginia, while still fielding the occasional phone call from Boston College, Florida and Illinois.
“People are still bugging him from other places,” Magdon said. “His head’s on right and he’s serious about Maryland and that’s where he really wants to go and I think he’ll do very well.
“There’s no worry in my mind [of Kabongo switching commitments]. He really got along well with the Illinois coaches and thinks they’re going to be a real national power, but I think he’s set with Maryland. He likes [Director of Character of Education] Kevin [Glover] and he likes [defensive line coach] Dave [Sollazzo] and he likes Coach Fridge. And the big thing is he knows Maryland is an excellent academic school. Believe it or not, that means a lot to him.”
Magdon thinks Kabongo will ultimately be a starter for the Terps, noting that Sollazzo sees him as more than a situational player. It’ll be a challenge for the young defensive tackle, but Magdon feels Kabongo will mature and ultimately flourish in College Park.
“He’s a jovial kid,” Magdon said. “He’s a real likeable kid. He’s always in a pretty good mood, he’s very congenial and very jovial. But he’s a kid. Maska hasn’t turned 17 yet -- he’ll turn 17 in May, so he’s still a pup in a lot of ways. Even that day with the exam, you get mad at him, but you shrug it off. He’s like a big Saint Bernard.
“Is it going to be a challenge? Sure it’s going to be a challenge. He’s going from high school to the Atlantic Coast Conference. He’s going to be a small fish in big pond, but if he keeps his head on and doesn’t get distracted he’ll be fine -- both in the classroom and on the football field.”