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‘I won’t be denied’
If these new-look Green Bay Packers are going to compete in the NFC, they'll be counting on players like Kingsley Enagbare destroying anything in his path. Works for him.
He has no recollection of his most vicious collision. But every few years, his godparents share the story from those youth football days and the imagery stays alive.
The victim was their cousins’ son. A kid on Kingsley Enagbare’s team.
They weren’t even playing “Ring of Fire” or conducting any of the other hitting drills that often sent kids home with tears in their eyes and blood on their arms. This was just a normal practice. But with one violent strike, Enagbare broke his teammate’s collarbone and the poor chap never played football again. Enagbare sent him into abrupt retirement.
In truth? He did him a favor.
“I think he became a hell of a track star,” says Enagbare. “I want to say he went D-I. It worked out for the best for him.”
Everything worked out for this Georgia kid, too. He’s still inflicting pain.
He doesn’t tackle the quarterback as much as extend his 34 ¾-inch arms out, grab a fistful of cloth and hurl ‘em wherever he pleases.
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The 6-foot-4, 258-pound edge rusher, whose last name is pronounced ee-nag-BAR-ee was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 2022 draft and broke out as one revelation through the defense’s Jekyll-and-Hyde season. His 465 snaps ranked ninth amongst all rookie linebackers, and he hinted at future demolition with 31 tackles (five for loss), three sacks, eight quarterback hits and three pass breakups. At a premium position, Kingsley Enagbare will serve a crucial role.
Because if these Packers — a team finally entering the great unknown — are going to sneak up on teams this season in the NFC, he’ll be one such player clubbing them over the head. They’re counting on the ascension of 23-year-olds like this that most of the world doesn’t know yet. More than $57 million in dead cap space tied up in the departing quarterback prevented Green Bay from signing free agents this spring. But there’s still a route for the Packers to compete in 2023. Everything obviously starts with Jordan Love (whom Enagbare knows is different than Aaron Rodgers in a good way) and, then, they’ll need others to follow his lead. Honestly, it’s strange to see anyone lament the exit of fossils such as Randall Cobb and Marcedes Lewis.
There’s value to youth, to raw wide receivers and edge rushers playing 700, 800, 900 snaps instead of standing around on the sideline. This isn’t a unit flipping the breaker in the basement, either, like the Los Angeles Rams. Enagbare isn’t exaggerating that much when he suggests the Packers possess the sport’s best defensive lineman, linebacker and defensive back. The Packers didn’t strip the roster down to spare parts.
The defense’s mentality in 2023, Enagbare says, is simple.
To “go all out” and “prove all the haters wrong.”
“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Enagbare says. “We have a great combination of speed, power, strong guys, there’s literally nothing we can’t do. From an individual standpoint or a whole group. We can compete with the best of them. And we will definitely show that this year.”
There’s no cloud over the organization. The Detroit Lions are the darlings of the NFC North, and for good reason. But the Packers are a team full of mystery men. The general public will soon learn all about this crew, and how there’s two versions of Enagbare: the gentle soul who enjoys photography off the field and the human tornado on it. That’s cause for excitement — not dread — internally. Rodgers’ exit presents an opportunity. For three years, doomsday minions have warned the masses on the radio airwaves: “Be careful what you wish for!” Whatever. It’s perfectly OK for this franchise to wish for more than another premature playoff exit. And it’s not only time for Love to take over at quarterback.
This is a roster full of players dying to step out of the departing quarterback’s mountainous shadow.
“It’s a new era in the locker room,” Enagbare says. “It’s a young locker room. There are only a handful of guys on their second or third contract. So a lot of guys have a lot to prove, which I feel is dangerous. A whole team with a whole bunch of guys trying to prove something to the world?”
He shakes his head.
“We’ve got nothing to lose. Everyone’s doubting us. So why not go balls out with no care in the world?”
The person is nice. Almost too nice.
Friends and family don’t even call him “Kingsley.” To them, he’s forever “JJ.”
As a kid, Enagbare loved “Jay Jay The Jet Plane,” a PBS television show that followed the wondrous adventures of Jay Jay and his pals at Tarrytown Airport. Arms outstretched, Kingsley would pretend to be the airplane through the house so much that Mom started calling him “JJ.” The name stuck. More people call him this than Kingsley.
Fitting for a man who appears far too tender to wreck quarterbacks at his day job.
Interests? He doesn’t hesitate: “Arts and crafts.”
In high school, his first pair of Jordans were all-white Retro 4’s. He cherished them and wore them ragged. After seeing YouTube videos of people customizing shoes, Enagbare figured he’d give it a whirl. Why not? His 4’s were beat to hell at that point. He painted a design over the shoes and a hobby was born. It can take up to three hours to paint a pair, but Enagbare loves the attention to detail. Loves seeing designs and patterns on clothing and then bringing it all to life himself.
“Having a shoe that’s 1 of 1, that you know no one else has,” he says, “you stick out in the room.”
Lately, he’s been putting his new camera to use. He’s gotten into photography — especially out in nature. Before training camp, Enagbare was looking forward to traveling a few hours from Atlanta to snap photos of the sunset at a spot just west of the Blue Ridge Mountain Ridge. He couldn’t wait to see a certain waterfall, too.
All in all, Enagbare enjoys thinking creatively — “outside of the box.”
A native of Lawrence, Ga., he starred at Hapeville Charter Academy. Even won a state title with his best friend. Without his father in the picture, coaches were always his mentors through life. To this day, his godfather is a go-to resource. Initially a 250-pound defensive tackle at South Carolina, “JJ” routinely gave up 50 pounds to SEC behemoths trying to block him. One more year at DT and he was gone. He would’ve transferred. Instead, Enagbare moved outside to defensive end/outside linebacker where he overcame a hip injury that could’ve crushed pro dreams for good. He balls up a fist with one hand and covers it up with his other hand to explain.
Enagbare had a bone spur on his hip. So every time that hip socket moved, it grinded on his hip.
After playing through the injury the second half of his sophomore year, he finally underwent a surgical procedure to get it fixed. The spur was shaved down and the labrum inside of his hip was repaired. Recovery took six months.
Very quickly, he learned how an injury this serious either makes or breaks you.
If it makes you? “You’re going to come back stronger,” he says.
The reason Enagbare even brings the injury up is because he sees parallels between that recovery, and this Packers team. It would’ve been easy to disappear then. He needed to rehab during Covid lockdowns, so there was concern that college football in general could be canceled. With schools shut down, he also couldn’t rehab with the team’s trainers on-site. Thankfully, another Gamecock player was going through the same thing in Atlanta. They helped each other daily and Enagbare turned himself into an NFL prospect that junior year.
“When your back’s against the wall, you really see what you’re make of,” Enagbare says. “That’s what we’re about to do this year. They’re about to see what we’re made of. I don’t think we’re going to disappoint.”
That’s why we shouldn’t get this twisted.
The nature-loving artist with dreads dripping down to his eyes this day brings more than enough rage to NFL Sundays. To him, there are two options in this crazy sport: “You’re going to get punished or you’ll be the punisher.” His choice was always easy.
So, the player is mean. Very mean. Even if it wasn’t always that way.
His entry into the sport itself is funny. Enagbare thinks he was four years old, maybe five, when he was walking through the neighborhood with his sister and brother. A gentleman walked by with three dogs, they all took turns petting two of them… and the third? This chihuahua was vicious and started chasing after Enagbare. The owner was eventually able to call the chihuahua back but was so impressed by the kid’s burst of speed that he said right then that Kingsley was destined to play football.
Two years later, Enagbare took up the sport.
He hated the physicality at first and loved it by season’s end. Honestly, he admits, because he had zero choice. Not on this youth team. The legendary “Atlanta Vikings” have produced a slew of NFL players.
Says Enagbare: “The coaches there are hardnosed. Everything was solved with violence.”
If you got in trouble at school, there’s a good chance you’d land inside “The Ring of Fire” on the practice field — a hitting drill similar to “Bull in Ring.” Teammates all circle around one player, whose feet are chopping and whose head must be on a swivel. One after another, coaches point to various players to clobber the kid in the middle. It’s on that middle victim to react quickly and brace for contact. Often, you don’t who’s about to blast you before it’s too late. The saying on this Vikings team was “We breed horses.” Droves of kids quit after hitting drills like this.
Enagbare wouldn’t be surprised if he suffered three or four concussions that season alone. One gave him a throbbing headache for two weeks straight.
All at 6 years old… with a developing brain. “Ring of Fire”-like drills are mercifully outlawed in many youth leagues across the country. But much like South Florida, where Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis was forged, Pop Warner Football is a totally different world in Atlanta.
“It was definitely a brutal, brutal experience,” Enagbare says, “that made some dogs out of people.”
Coaches at every level — those Vikings to H.S. to South Carolina — injected Enagbare with the belief he’d make it to the NFL. His older brother, too. A kid who went “1,000 percent” in everything he does. Kingsley says that everything his brother wants… he “attacks.”
“So I accepted that mentality — being undeniable. I won’t be denied in anything I want.”
This line of thinking can be difficult to manage in the modern NFL. Something as second nature as sacking the quarterback is currently being re-taught to everyone. Packers coaches have shown players film of roughing the passer penalties and shown guys like Enagbare how to bring the QB to the ground within the rules. All utter insanity to him. He doesn’t understand how the NFL can ask 255-pound men like himself — at full speed — to suddenly pull up while falling. Or roll over while falling.
He’ll try his best, but can’t make any guarantees. Playing this way isn’t easy.
In reality, the Packers need players willing to cross that line. This has been a team that too often wilts in January.
Nobody wants inside linebacker Quay Walker to get ejected from more games in 2023, but it’s true they’ve needed his gnarly attitude in the middle of the defense for quite some time. Expectations are also high for the other 2022 first-round pick, defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt. Even with Rashan Gary back from his torn ACL and even with the Packers drafting Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness in the first round this year, count on seeing Enagbare.
The best defenses send waves of pass rushers at the quarterback. Naturally, Enagbare is far more comfortable in Year 2. He plans on forcing the Packers to play him.
“I’ll be undeniable and make plays whenever I get my opportunity,” he says. “I’ll show that I belong and show you essentially have to play me with the stuff I’m planning on showing.”
He corrects himself.
“The stuff I’m going to show.”
Last season was a promising preview. When teams tried blocking him with a tight end, Enagbare often made them pay by embarrassing that tight end before then shoving Zach Wilson into the dirt, using nothing but his right hand to rag-doll Taylor Heinicke and body-slamming Baker Mayfield. His long reach helps him vs. offensive tackles, too. He’s been piecing together a series of pass-rush moves this summer.
Obviously, all players are going to have their quarterback’s back in the public. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was quick to rip Mad Dog Sports’ Adam Schein for criticizing Love this summer. Enagbare lauds Love’s “presence,” saying he’s been unbelievably relaxed as the new QB1 in town. And he also shed light on how the offense changes with Love replacing Rodgers.
Maybe he can’t audible to play run in 2012, but Love can pull off athletic stunts that are now impossible for Rodgers.
There’s no RPO threat with an aging quarterback. At 39, Rodgers cannot pull the ball and sprint past linebackers nearly half his age. Love most certainly can. Blitzing used to be a death sentence against Rodgers. He’d escape pocket… dance… dance some more… rifle a 45-yarder across his body. Last season, he was too often corralled.
Love will be at his best in a game setting. On second reaction. When his improvisation and athleticism can take over.
“Jordan is a completely different player in a good way,” Enagbare says. “He brings different things that Aaron couldn’t… I’m not going to say couldn’t do. But Aaron wasn’t known for stuff like that.
“His movement. Being able to throw on the run and stuff like that. Escape the pocket. Extend plays to give our offense a better chance at succeeding on that particular play. Overall, from my view, he’s been very accurate. Making the right decisions. Making the right throws. He’s been looking super comfortable and relaxed and unbothered in dropping back and making good throws.”
Name to name to name, Enagbare rattles off others who’ll introduce themselves to everyone this season. Wyatt comes to mind first. He sees Michigan State rookie Jayden Reed busting out on offense. At the moment, the Packers appear to be a collection of unproven 22- and 23-year-olds. GM Brian Gutekunst and the front office paid dearly for handing Rodgers the richest contract in the sport a year ago. Part of this is out of necessity. There’s no money to dangle in front of a veteran wide receiver or proven pass rusher.
This youth movement, however, was sorely needed.
As far as “JJ” is concerned? There’s also no need for youth to be synonymous with rebuilding.
“I’m excited about the future we have,” he says. “Don’t be surprised of what we do this year.
“The sky’s the limit. There’s nothing we can’t do.”
How do you see the NFC North going down in 2023? Join the conversation inside the chat.