In his first season back at the Division I level, Lee Kpogba led the Mountaineers in tackles last fall. His 92 total tackles were 26 more than the next-closest WVU player, and the seventh-most in the Big 12 Conference.

With multiple veteran defensive players exiting the program in the offseason, Kpogba has been tasked with taking on an increased leadership role this fall. From all accounts, he has taken his added responsibilities head-on.

“Lee’s been steady. He’s definitely a leader,” linebackers coach Jeff Koonz said Friday. “He has a voice, and he loves to play, and people feed off of his energy and how hard he plays.”

The senior linebacker is now the lead communicator to the rest of the defense, which is typical of a starting Mike linebacker.

Head-on is also how Kpogba has taken the increased level of physicality in practice West Virginia has deployed all offseason. Head coach Neal Brown called him a “seeker of contact.” As the unquestioned leader of the defense, it was Kpogba’s duty to prepare the rest of his unit for what was to come.

The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, native isn’t just West Virginia’s best defensive player on the field, he is also one of the sharpest Mountaineers in the meeting room.

“Lee is doing as good of a job as anyone I’ve ever coached right now in [the] meeting room, asking questions, taking notes,” said Koonz. “And not notes like I took in college, you know what I’m saying? Not paraphrasing, he’s writing paragraphs of information.”

Koonz took Kpogba’s notebook last week and checked the linebacker’s notes. He was pleased with what he saw.

“It was verbatim things that I was saying. And that just shows growth in that part of it, in that area,” added Koonz.

Kpogba’s position coach also commended his extraordinary efforts in the weight room and off the field during the offseason. The 6-1, 234-pound hard-hitting linebacker weighed in only four pounds heavier this year than he did last, but Kpogba appears even stronger and more chiseled than he was a year ago.

Koonz noted Kpogba’s increased lateral movement, which can help him make even more tackles and be a better defender than he was already. His improved physical stature, combined with his experience, has taken Kpogba to a higher level of play.

“He’s a guy who’s playing faster, seeing things faster,” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesey said earlier this month.

Brown noted last week he believes Kpogba will make a big jump this fall. He has done the prep work in the weight room, in the meeting rooms, and in practices. The next step is building off All-Big 12 honorable mention season he put together last year, and backing up all that has been said about him since the offseason began.