MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In a sense, Lee Kpogba’s collegiate football journey has come full circle.

That journey technically didn’t start at WVU — but it almost did.

“I always liked West Virginia. I liked to watch Karl Joseph, he was one of my favorite players. When I came up here, it was one of my first Power 5 offers I received and I was overwhelmed,” Kpogba said. “I wanted to come here and I made the decision to commit from early on without exploring my other options. Then I believe going into my senior year there was where a coaching change and that’s when I decided to de-commit from here.”

The linebacker played at Syracuse for the first two seasons of his collegiate career, but in February 2021, that chapter came to a close when he was suspended indefinitely from the team. That humbling experience, as Kpogba refers to it, led him to East Mississippi Community College where he played for Buddy Stevens.

Last fall, he led the Lions with 84 tackles, two sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and an interception. After that season is when a piece of his past came calling.

“I was surprised,” Kpogba said of ending up at WVU. “I definitely wasn’t expecting it, but when [defensive coordinator] Coach Lesley called me and told me the opportunity I would have when I came here, I couldn’t turn it down.”

Kpogba said once he had the opportunity to meet the coaching staff, the upgraded facilities and proximity to his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, helped him realize that Country Roads did lead him home. They also led him to a new number.

“I like Karl Joseph, so when No. 8 was available…I used to watch him as a kid, so I was like ‘oh, I watched that guy play here, I used to watch his highlights before a game,’ so I thought, why not,” Kpogba said.

And it seems he has much more in common with one of WVU’s heaviest hitters in recent history than just the number.

“The best part of my game I would say is my physicality. I see myself as a physical person. I’m always trying to look for a big hit,” Kpogba said.

That physicality shows even when he isn’t on the field, as he appears to be 218 pounds of nothing but muscle. That’s one of the things that has impressed his coaches and teammates.

Mix in his competitiveness, and he fits the mold of what Lesley is looking for in a mike linebacker.

“He’s ultracompetitive. I think I saw him talking trash to a tire the other day as he was flipping it,” Lesley said. “So, he didn’t have to have a competition from a human, you know? He’s got that mentality that you want at that position.”

Now, Kpogba said Lesley’s recollection of that practice isn’t completely true. He said he was talking to a teammate he was competing against or was self-motivating as he flipped the tire, but it’s still an accurate representation of his personality on the football field.

“My enthusiasm just comes from my love for the game. The game of football has done a lot for me in life,” Kpogba said. “I’m appreciative of getting to play the game I love because it got taken away from me a little bit, so just getting another chance to play, I want to make the most of the opportunity. It’s fun to me every time I get to hit the field.”

A number of players on the WVU defense are being cross-trained, but when it comes to Kpogba, he’s locked into his spot. Lesley called him a “true mike.”

Josh Chandler-Semedo, who held that starting role at that position for the past two seasons, was set to return for another year, but announced his departure before spring ball began. Kpogba said that doesn’t change the way he is approaching this opportunity.

“I was already prepared to come in and compete. I was going to fight for the No. 1 spot regardless of who was here. Nothing was going to change about my demeanor or how I practiced,” Kpogba said. “With him leaving, it made me feel like I had to step up a lot faster even though we are only in spring practice. Mike linebacker is seen as the leader of the defense, got to give a lot of calls, so I hopped in my playbook more. I was already in there, but I would say I got in there more to learn things faster.”