Taking the Long Way
Antonio Kanonu’s path the major college football has been anything but normal
About a year ago, I was stumped for topics to write about. I had already done a couple solid feature pieces for the magazine I was writing for and had written every so-called ‘list’ that I could think of – you know, the ones that keep people entertained in the late spring and summer months when college football seems so far away. It was about that time when I came across a young man named Antonio Kanonu.
To this day, nearly one year later, I am still baffled by his story.
Kanonu had not played a down of football since junior high, yet he was being recruited by some pretty big-time schools. He struggled academically throughout high school and though his talent was superior to most others on the field, he did not sign up for football because he knew he would not be able to make the grades. Yet, Arkansas, LSU and UCF, among others, expressed interest after seeing Kanonu excel in camps and 7-on-7 outings. He met Dewayne Coker from the Alabama Sports Academy, which later led him to an invaluable relationship with E.K. Franks, director of recruiting at Arkansas.
Through persistence, hard work, and a little luck in being able to make the right contacts, Kanonu has gotten back on the gridiron. This is the story of his progress over the last year. The last time we spoke, Kanonu was excited to get started at Orangeburg Prep in South Carolina. However, that venture never worked out. Instead, he spent a semester at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi where he continued to improve his academics and fine tune his game. Kanonu received a sponsorship from Battle and began to make a transition north to Arkansas Baptist.
Perhaps the most important move for Kanonu, though, was a move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had previously been recruited as an athlete, but coaches felt that he may be a bit undersized to play major college football at the wideout position.
“I expect to start at corner in the fall, but I’m probably not going to play much receiver anymore,” said Kanonu. “The good thing is, I know how to become a better corner because I know what receivers are going to do. I think it’s a better move for me and I think I’m better at corner than receiver for my size and it will help me reach my full potential. It wasn’t my decision – it was the coaches’ decision, but I like it,” he added.
Kanonu has already begun to make strides in his new role, intercepting two passes and breaking up four others in the Arkansas Baptist spring game. He currently has offers from Utah State, UTEP, and Western Kentucky. Kanonu said, “I visited UTEP for the MTSU game last year and really enjoyed it, but they haven’t recruited me as much since I made the switch. Utah State and Western Kentucky both want me at corner.”
He added, “I really like how Western Kentucky plays defense. They play man-to-man coverage the majority of the time. I also really like their defensive coordinator.” Those three schools remain as his only offers at this point, but Kanonu says his recruitment has ‘skyrocketed quite a bit’ in the past year. He has gained interest from bigger schools such as defending national champion Ohio State, Auburn, and Washington State. But two schools stand out at this point – Michigan State and TCU. “They have been targeting me a lot,” says Kanonu.
Arkansas, his favorite school this time last year, is certainly still in the mix due in part to his relationship with Franks. “We have developed an even closer relationship now that I’m headed to Arkansas Baptist. He [Franks] said he wants to get down there and catch one of my games.” Kanonu has bulked up some in the past year, currently weighing in at 168, whereas he was only 150 last summer. With added size and development, Kanonu feels like he has potential to play in the SEC. “At this point, I think I can play in most any conference besides the SEC. I need to get up to 180-190 before I can touch the field in the SEC, so that’s my goal. Two of my dream schools are in the SEC,” he said. Yet, Kanonu made it clear that Arkansas, Michigan State, and TCU are his current top three.
His personal life is going well, too. Kanonu’s family just built a new house and his gifted cousins are beginning to receive scholarship offers in sports as well. He still resides in Lafayette, Louisiana, but plans to make the short move to Arkansas in June. As we concluded our interview, Kanonu told me his coaches think he can do big things in the coming months. There are not many JUCO corners coming out in this class, and they believe he has a real shot at turning some heads. Before we hung up, Kanonu left me with one final bit of assurance. “The interest is just getting started,” he said. Kanonu plans to announce his next destination in December.