If you were tasked to find what a traditional middle linebacker looks like, West Virginia’s Lee Kpogba would certainly be somewhere in that search. Standing at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Kpogba certainly fits the part physically, but it is the way he plays the game that is making him stand out. 

When Kpogba was two years old, he and his family came to the United States. During the civil war in Liberia, Kpogba said his family was in a refugee camp and came here to escape the war. 

“I was in a refugee camp and I got the opportunity to come over here when I was 2 because of the civil war in Liberia. My family is Liberian. I just happened to be born in Ghana, but I’m actually Liberian because that’s where my family is from,” Kpogba said. 

Since then, Kpogba’s football journey has taken him down many different roads. In 2019, Kpogba enrolled at Syracuse, playing in 11 games mostly on special teams. In 2020, Kpogba spent his sophomore season at Syracuse, finishing with 43 tackles. After 2020 though, Kpogba made another move — to junior college. 

Last season, Kpogba played at East Mississippi Community College. There, he helped his team finish in the top ten of the junior college ranks, while finishing with 84 tackles, 5.5 TFL, and an interception and fumble recovery. Kpogba, would then transfer to West Virginia, arriving in the spring, and now taking a big step forward as the Mountianeers are closing in on the final days before beginning their 2022 season. 

When Kpogba arrived to WVU, defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley fell in love with his personality. 

“It’s really about the personality about whoever you bring in. I think it took Lee about a day to where people are like that’s probably a guy who can step in and people listen to. When he talks, people listen,” Lesley said. 

Kpogba has stepped up and taken the role of being the quarterback of the defense. The MIKE-linebacker position is to the defense what the quarterback is to the offense Lesley says. 

“The MIKE-linebacker, that’s your quarterback. Your defense goes usually as that guy goes,” Lesley said. 

Lesley added when they looked at bringing Kpogba in, they looked at what his attitude was more than anything and said Kpogba has been a leader from the first time he saw him play. 

“That’s part of those evaluation process. You took all those intangibles. You look at that like you look at a quarterback — you want a guy that’s got a little something about him and you look for the same thing in a MIKE-linebacker,” Lesley said. “When you find that it’s a pretty easy transition because when he opens his mouth, other people close their mouth.” 

Lesley said Kpogba is exactly who he wants in the middle of his defense. Someone who works hard and is not scared of anything on the football field. 

“You’re trying to find the things you can’t fix in the evaluation process. If I look at Lee’s evaluation, he’s a kid that plays hard, is extremely passionate and plays fast, plays physical. Those are about three or four things quite honestly that’s hard to change if they don’t do it,” Lesley said. 

Even with all of the praise Kpogba is receiving, there is still a transition to be had — a transition Kpogba says he finds easier having played at Syracuse out of high school. 

“Learning the college defense is always difficult especially coming out of high school. Junior college might help you a little more than coming out of high school but I feel like I was already on certain terminology and things just getting a head start,” Kpogba said.

As for Lesley, the biggest thing he has seen with Kpogba during his transition is his fundamentals. 

“Anytime they take that next step up, the transition right out of the gate is usually a difficult one. But the biggest transition is the little bitty fundamental things that each position has to do,” Lesley said. “That was probably the biggest struggle in the spring with him and through the summer he has made tremendous strides with his fundamental game, his footwork, his hand placement, his pad level, just all the little bitty things.”

As for the future, Kpogba said he is going to continue to keep the same mindset that got him here. 

“Just stay focused, do the things I’m supposed to do, be who I’m supposed to be, stay locked in.”

Photo from WVU Sports