Any story about Ohio State freshman defensive tackle Hero Kanu must begin with the part about how he is originally from Germany and came to America in the fall of 2020 to play high school football.
Some might call it his origin story.
Kanu took part in Premiere Prospects International, which is a program that is designed to find and develop American football prospects in Europe. He was part of a contingent of campers brought over by PPI in the summer of 2021. They toured a number of American universities and took part in the annual summer camps along the way.
Kanu performed so well at Ohio State and the sessions were so effective that the tour left Kanu behind in Columbus for an extra day or two while they continued their tour.
It was at that point that people began to feel pretty good about Hero Kanu’s future as a Buckeye.
His first season of organized football was in the spring of 2021 in California where he lived with a host family. This past season as a true freshman at Ohio State was just his second. Kanu played in three games in 2022 and redshirted as he continued to master all of the technique and minutiae that is required on the defensive line.
With a full season and offseason under his belt, the expectations are high for 2023.
“I feel like I’ve grown on and off the field,” Kanu told Buckeye Huddle. “As a player, I got stronger, I got faster, I got better technique. But also off the field, I had a good academic semester. And I’ve enjoyed the time that I’ve been here. I’ve got a good family, my teammates, my roommates, Coach J, the coaching staff, Coach Mick. I can shout every single person out here.”
Taking his football size at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds and combining it with his soccer background could make for an interesting defensive tackle prospect, but even a soccer background doesn’t solve the footwork issues for a defensive lineman.
“I need to work on my hands, especially my hands, and just my feet coordination,” Kanu said of his development. “I feel like strength and power is all there, just going to have add a couple of the final touches.”
Part of the upside of being new to the game is that the development of bad habits due to years of success against smaller players isn’t an issue for Kanu. He has only learned one way to play the game, and that’s with enthusiasm and attention to detail.
He has also learned that this is the best way to keep Larry Johnson happy as well.
“It’s called ‘do your job?'” Kanu laughed. “Do your job.”
It obviously didn’t take Johnson long to become attached to Kanu.
“I loved him,” Johnson told Buckeye Huddle. “I saw him on film, but then he came to camp, one-on-one. When you come to camp, it’s a different kind of game. When I saw him, I saw leadership skills. He was always at the front of the line.”
The Front Of The Line
There are stories that border on legend of former college football greats who would go to camps to earn an offer and do everything they could to be seen. Former Ohio State All-American cornerback Malcolm Jenkins was said to have cut into lines after repping so that he could go again and again just to make sure the coaches saw him.
“And that’s what he did,” Johnson said of Kanu. “Every rep he was the No. 1. And then the thing I loved about it is that he was cheering guys on that he didn’t even know. He was encouraging guys, telling them ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I’m all in.'”
From even before he was a Buckeye, Kanu was “doing his job” by making “Coach J” happy, so it didn’t take long for Johnson to buy in.
The Buckeyes must replace defensive tackles Taron Vincent and Jerron Cage for next season. They still return some quality depth, but Kanu could make them even more disruptive. Johnson isn’t sure if he’ll line up at nose tackle or defensive tackle yet. That will be determined by the rest of the makeup of the defensive line and how well Kanu continues to develop.
As for what he does well?
“Power. Strength. I’m a strong guy,” Kanu said. “That’s my thing, and I can show it on the field, I can show it in practice. The coaches know about it too.”
Everybody Loves Hero Kanu
There are few things that get past Larry Johnson as he meticulously watches tape of all of his players, and strength isn’t one of those things that is hard to see. But Johnson is as impressed by Kanu off the field as he is on the field, which will only continue to aid him in his development as a football player.
“He is an impressive young man, and that’s not just about football. As a young man,” Johnson said. “Everybody loves him here, and he loves everybody. Everybody. He’s just got a great future here.”
The Buckeyes are back at it with winter workouts, and soon enough they’ll be back on the practice field for spring ball.
Hero Kanu’s name will continue to be mentioned by coaches. His background, attitude, and work ethic make him easy to talk about, after all. That’s all great to hear, but for Kanu, with great power comes great responsibility. Which is why there are some words that go even deeper.
“Obviously, everybody likes having a compliment,” he explained. “Saying you do a good job, but the best thing you can hear from a coach or from a fellow player is ‘you’re a dog,’ ‘you’re doing great,’ ‘you’re hard to guard,’ ‘you get me better every day.’ These are the things you want to hear as a teammate and football player.”