Ben Banogu, a transfer from ULM slated to start for the Horned Frogs in 2017, describes a sack against Alabama. cmendez@star-telegram.com
Ben Banogu, a transfer from ULM slated to start for the Horned Frogs in 2017, describes a sack against Alabama. cmendez@star-telegram.com

TCU

Is TCU’s surprise star thinking about leaving early for NFL?

By Carlos Mendez

cmendez@star-telegram.com

October 18, 2017 08:44 AM

UPDATED October 18, 2017 02:54 PM

He hadn’t heard the news, yet it is some of most exciting a college football player can hear.

“Mel Kiper has you going in the first round.”

TCU defensive end Ben Banogu didn’t move. He hardly reacted. He merely smiled.

“That’s nice of him,” he said.

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

That was about the extent of the reaction from Banogu, a junior from McKinney who has emerged as the Horned Frogs’ most dynamic pass rusher. Last week, ESPN’s draft expert Kiper projected him in the lower half of the first round of the NFL draft on his “Big Board.” If the prediction holds, it would make Banogu the second first-round pick in three years out of TCU, joining 2016 Washington Redskins receiver Josh Doctson.

“Yeah, just a little bit,” Banogu said, asked if he was surprised. “I mean, it’s good. But at the end of the day, I just want to do well for the team. You cross that bridge when you get there.”

To be eligible for the draft next spring, Banogu would have to declare early. That’s a big decision.

But that he even would have to think about it says everything about how far and how quickly he has come since arriving at TCU as a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe last year. He sat out 2016 per transfer rules, but grabbed a starting job at defensive end promptly in spring practice, dominated the spring game and has roared out of the gate in the regular season with four sacks, six quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles in six games.

That was fast.

“To be honest with you, he’s very young,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “He’s only played really one year of college football.”

At ULM, started 13 games as a red-shirt freshman, recording five sacks among 14.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. He had a sack at Alabama.

At 6-foot-4, 257 pounds, he’s NFL defensive end size now.

But is he ready?

Patterson can’t answer that. He won’t try to answer that.

“He needs to get as much experience as he can,” Patterson said. “That would be my suggestion if he asked me. Because at the next level, there’s a lot of other intangibles that go into being that guy.”

Banogu said he was hardly recruited out of Prosper High School, in part because a broken leg made him miss most of his junior season. He said the only other real choice he had was Montana State.

“Not a lot of teams really gave me a shot. I’m glad ULM did,” Banogu said. “Even though I left, the time that I was there was time that helped me a lot.”

TCU? Saw him but never offered.

“I think everybody wants to get recruited by TCU coming out of high school,” Banogu said. “The chips didn’t really go my way. That’s OK, though. God always finds a way of putting you in the right place.”

As a high school senior, Banogu said he was 6-4 but weighed only 205 pounds.

“I was a little scrawny,” he said. “At ULM, they bulked me up to about 265. After I got here, I figured out I was a little too heavy.”

Dropping 10 pounds helped his speed, which he showed in a strip-sack of Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma State. It also showed against West Virginia, when he looped under the defensive tackles to sack Will Grier on a middle rush. At Arkansas, on the third play of the game, Banogu rushed around the end to knock the ball out of quarterback Austin Allen’s hand.

“He’s a good player. We wouldn’t be where we are without him,” Patterson said.

But slow down.

No one is saying Banogu is leaving for the pros. Certainly not him or Patterson.

“I’ve found it hasn’t turned out real well for guys who go out early,” Patterson said. “But I’ll never tell them not to. The way I’ve always dealt with players is, ‘It’s not going to be my fault. I’m not going to tell you to stay, I’m not going to tell you to go. I’m going to give you the facts and what I think.’ That’s what I’ve always done.”

Banogu made his own decision to leave ULM.

“The environment I was in didn’t really fit me,” he said. “A change of pace was needed, and I’m closer to home. I’m near my family and my mom, so she can actually watch me play.”

Presumably, Banogu will make his own decision about the NFL.

“I’m not too worried about that now,” he said. “You’ve just got to wait and see.”

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

No. 4 TCU vs. Kansas

7 p.m. Saturday, KDFW, Ch. 4