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Difficult football journey paying off for Makonzo

Just over a year ago Enock Makonzo was standing on the field for Coastal Carolina, taking a big step in what’s been a long and winding football journey.

He’d gone from CEGEP Vieux-Montreal, bypassing numerous offers from Canadian universities to play closer to home, to take a chance on playing football for New Mexico Military Institute. It was a drastic life change on every front, from the 5:30 a.m. wakeup calls, to uniforms and curfews, to attending an English-speaking school for the first time in his life. As he told Canadian reporters on a conference call on Wednesday, “it was not a two-way (street),” he laughed.

“You can go this way or you can see the door. It was really different.”

The five-foot-11, 195-pound linebacker/safety went the right way. A 71-tackle sophomore season in 2018 let him walk through that door, into a slew of options that included offers from Southern Alabama and the University of Massachusetts before he chose the Chanticleers at Coastal.

In Kansas playing the Jayhawks, just a few plays into his second game with his new team, the positive feelings gave way along with his knee to one of the worst ones. He tore his left ACL and was done for the year.

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Makonzo has 25 solo tackles (36 shared) this season, along with two sacks, helping Coastal Carolina to a 6-0 start and a No. 15 ranking in the weekly AP college football poll. (Photo: Supplied, Coastal Carolina University Athletics)

“Definitely, I was hurting on every level. It put a chip on my shoulder,” he said of watching his team go 5-7 last year, finishing last in the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference.

“I gave everything I could in the off-season: Running, lifting doing what I had to do to make sure I was going to come back and help my team achieve something phenomenal like we’re doing this year.”

When he says phenomenal, he’s not exaggerating. Makonzo and his Chanticleer teammates are 6-0 this year. Coming off of a 51-0 win over Georgia State, Coastal Carolina found itself sitting at 15th in the Associated Press’ weekly college football rankings. That’s the highest a Sun Belt Conference team has ever been ranked.

A redshirt junior, Makonzo has 25 solo tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery so far. He feels like he’s just getting started.

“If you think about it I haven’t played football…really, I played one game last year. I’m just getting back into it but I’m getting the feeling of it,” he said.

“I’m getting back into it and once I’m really fully comfortable with it there are a lot of things that will come into place.”

At 23, Makonzo has put himself into a good spot in terms of his football future. He dreams of playing in the NFL, but knows the Canadian game is there as well. He’ll have decisions to make about his future beyond this season, but at this point he’s showing promise and giving himself plenty of options while his team is stacking up wins.

“I’m trying to give everything I’ve got for this season,” he said.

Coastal Carolina puts its perfect record on the line on Saturday against Southern Alabama; one of the schools that courted Makonzo when he was leaving New Mexico and the program where Canadian Brandon Bridge played QB in 2013 and 2014.

After two years in a military school, after enduring an injury that he’s admitted forever changed him, Makonzo is finally enjoying some of the fruits of his labour. It’s been fun to take this program — and the entire conference, really — on a journey it’s never experienced before.

“One thing we’re trying to do this year is impose our respect. People have been looking down on us the past few years and even this year still,” he said.

“We’re going to keep on playing football hard and impose our respect until people recognize and feel what it’s like to play football (against) Coastal Carolina.”

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