Bukasa’s impact felt on Lyco defense
There’s a word Lycoming’s opponents have used to describe Kabongo Bukasa which, on the surface, may not be so flattering. In reality though, it may be the highest form of flattery offered to the Warriors’ middle linebacker.
It’s an apt description for the reigning Middle Atlantic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He’s a freak of an athlete, and the word freak was one which would come up often, unprompted, when opposing coaches and players would talk about Bukasa.
“If you’re talking about his skill and athleticism for a linebacker, yeah, that’s the right word,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said during the Warriors’ media day last month. “He’s different on the football field. The amount of ground he can cover in comparison to any other linebacker in our league is different.”
There’s an overt number of adjectives you could use to describe Bukasa. Athletic would be an understatement. Energetic would be a good place to start. Boisterous? Yeah, you’re more likely to hear Bukasa before you see him. He’s a firework of speed, tenacity, intelligence, strength, instinct and effort just waiting for the opening whistle so he can explode to a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the fans who watch him.
He’s the preeminent teammate, worthy of being selected one of the Warriors’ defensive captains.
“We let the seniors speak to the team (before the season) and he spoke to the team with no notes, but he was great,” Clark said. “He was really passionate.”
He’s the targeted member of a Lycoming defense which is littered with preseason All-Americans and All-MAC caliber players. He’s the one opponents have to know where he is at all times.
Heck, even his own teammates are aware of his presence. Even though the Lycoming offense doesn’t gameplan for the Lycoming defense for intersquad scrimmages, but Warriors quarterback Tyler Jenny said he’s always aware of where No. 20 is on the field.
“He’s special,” Jenny said. “Athletically, he’s hard to play against.”
It’s preparation, though. There’s not another middle linebacker in the MAC who can cover the ground Bukasa will cover as quickly as Bukasa will cover it.
For Jenny and the Lycoming offense, it’s only going to get easier after facing Bukasa for four consecutive weeks in preseason camp.
“He makes plays that makes you turn your head in practice,” Lycoming tight end Greg Kovacs said. “A lot of times you’re like, ‘How did he get to that?'”
The total numbers for Bukasa a year ago weren’t exactly eye-popping. He led the team with 70 tackles, despite playing just nine games. He was second on the team with three interceptions. He was third on the team with four pass break-ups, and he led the Warriors with two forced fumbles.
Each number individually wouldn’t be enough to necessarily get you excited. Combined, though, it all spelled out one of the most dynamic and complete players in the country, not just the MAC.
This from a player who wasn’t necessarily excited about his move to linebacker following his freshman season. He was recruited out of Academy Park High School in Philadelphia to be a safety. Long and lanky, he was a hitter from the back end of the secondary, and a ball hawk with a feel for beating receivers to a spot to catch the football.
Linebacker always seemed to be his destiny though. He got the majority of his playing time as a true freshman with the Warriors as a nickleback playing a linebacker-type role. Even before Bukasa got to Lycoming he was told he’d eventually be a linebacker by Chester’s Ronell Williams during Delaware County’s annual Hero Bowl. Williams is a linebacker at West Chester now.
Bukasa shrugged off the suggestion from Williams. Take a quick look at his high school highlight tape. It’s an impressive display of instincts and ability. Bukasa even wore No. 20 because of his favorite pro player, Brian Dawkins, who just happened to be a safety for the Philadelphia Eagles at the time.
“Honestly, when I moved I wasn’t a big fan of it and the coaches knew I wasn’t a big fan of it,” Bukasa said. “But I said for the team, if I can help the team win with this, I’ll do it. I think I’ve done pretty nicely so far.”
“We thought when we recruited him he was really good,” Clark said. “I can’t sit here and tell you I thought he’d grow into the conference Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American linebacker. That wasn’t the vision. We thought he was a defensive back, and we thought he’d be a really good college football player.”
But he’s more than just a good college football player. He’s the difference-maker you hear so many coaches worry about on a week-to-week basis. He’s the clean-up hitter you don’t let beat you with home runs.
He’s a difference-maker because his combination of speed, athleticism and size isn’t something you often see at the Division III level. The best players often have one, or maybe two, of those traits. Bukasa is different because he has all three.
He’s big enough at 205 pounds to be able to take on blocks from linemen and fullbacks and shed them. He’s quick enough, especially laterally, to cover the field sideline to sideline.
In a time where the fastest and most explosive players are often put on offense, Bukasa can match up with just about any opponent.
“I have that speed getting to the line and moving laterally. That’s my advantage,” Bukasa said. “Instead of taking that block, I can take it and get rid of it quicker than a normal linebacker would. I have a lot of advantage with my speed.”
He’s a torch of fire in a controlled environment. He plays at 100 mph, but not out of control. He can make plays without going outside of the gameplan. He’s not running around the field doing his own thing.
But his instincts of the game allow him to read and react. His closing speed is incredible. He sees the ball, he gets the ball. He sees the ballcarrier, the ballcarrier is on the ground.
He plays with emotion, but his emotion doesn’t cloud his judgement.
“(Defensive coordinator) Steve Wiser stresses controlled chaos, and that’s what he brings to the defense,” Warriors defensive tackle Dwight Hentz said. “We want to be flying around to the ball, being out of control but under control. He’s always around the ball, sacrificing his body and flying in. That’s the type of mentality I want for this defense.”
So go ahead and call him a freak. Call him a ball hawk. Call him energetic, physical, talented, different or special. Call him what you will.
But don’t call Kabongo Bukasa good. He’s better than that.