Imagine trying to teach 6-foot-5, 290-pound Hero Kanu from Germany how to swim.
His football coach at Santa Margarita High, Anthony Rouzier, calls him “a behemoth; a dancing bear.” Kanu got a friend to teach him so quickly how to float and paddle in a pool that he tried something every teenager in California attempts at least once — surfing.
“I tried it but it didn’t go that well,” he said. “But it was fun. The beach is so beautiful.”
When Kanu arrived at Santa Margarita from Geltendorf on Oct. 9, 2020, he was a former soccer player trying football for the first time while learning English. He left his family behind to stay with a host family with the hopes of fulfilling his new dream — getting a college football scholarship.
After he recorded two tackles for losses in his second game last spring against Bellflower St. John Bosco, he said he received eight scholarship offers. He was up to 27 by the time he entertained reporters at the Trinity League media day on Aug. 6. Now he has 18 tackles for losses this season and is trying to make a college choice from among football royalty — Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Georgia and Oklahoma.
“My family never expected me to go this far in the process. I’m very grateful,” said Kanu, who turned 17 on Sept 14. “It’s been amazing.”
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Kanu said his three options when leaving Germany were attending Santa Margarita, the IMG Academy in Florida or the NFL Academy in London. He credits Brandon Collier, who founded Premier Prospects International, for pointing him in the right direction and getting him some early football training. Collier also happens to be a former college roommate of Rouzier, who used to coach in Germany.
Kanu said learning the proper technique for playing defensive line has been his biggest challenge. He appears to be a fast learner, just like in swimming. He went up against St. John Bosco All-American offensive tackle Earnest Greene, who was impressed.
“When he knows what he’s doing, watch out,” Greene said.
This summer, Kanu spent 17 days visiting schools and attended five camps, all of which taught him new techniques for playing defense.
“I got so much knowledge from all these college coaches,” he said.
Kanu has continued to make progress and will be an important contributor for Santa Margarita in its Southern Section Division 1 playoff opener against No. 3-seeded Anaheim Servite at Orange Coast College on Thursday night.
“His stamina and understanding of the long-term requirements is much better,” Rouzier said.
Kanu said he believes football has helped him release aggression on the field, making him a better person off of it. Kanu’s mother has been visiting from Germany, adding to his excitement.
“I got big, I got mature,” he said. “I was a little kid when I left. Now I grew up like a man.”
Everyone should understand that he’s just scratching the surface of his abilities.
“There’s a lot more room for him to grow,” Rouzier said.
That’s why so many top football schools want to be the one to show him the way.