Earlier this month, Tennessee’s coaching staff sent out a scholarship offer to junior college defensive end Niadre Zouzoua. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound pass rusher isn’t rated on any current recruiting site, but he isn’t remaining anonymous to coaches around the country.
Along with his offer from the Vols, Zouzoua (pronounced “zoo-shwa”) has received offers from Nebraska, Baylor, Rutgers, and Temple all very recently. So what put him on the map?
In an interview he did with me recently, Zouzoua told me that he took a somewhat unorthodox route in getting noticed by coaches. Not only did he send his highlight tape out via emails and Twitter DMs, but he also would reply with his highlight videos on coaches’ tweets.
His methods have worked. And he’s starting to get noticed by many programs across college football.
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“I feel as of right now, my greatest strength is pass rushing,” Zouzoua told me. “Though by no means am I incapable of stopping the run. I know that I can get in there, and in fact, I like stopping the run. I like when the coach sends me to the B-gap to get my hands dirty with all the guards and all that.
“Even though I’m more built for a pass rusher, I know if I’m in the right program and if I’m lifting, I can definitely become a four-down defensive end, and I feel as if right now I already am.”
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Zouzoua isn’t built like a typical collegiate defensive end, but he doesn’t let that hold him back. He plays with physicality and tenacity, and he’s always played that way even in other sports.
“It’s funny, everyone tells me I’m built like a basketball player, and my main sport before everything else was basketball,” Zouzoua explained. “I played some rugby when I was at prep school, but I had to stop playing basketball because I was fouling out all the time. That’s when I found football. I was like, look, if you’re gonna blow the whistle for me hitting somebody, let me play a sport where they cheer when I hit somebody.
“I played rugby to help me with form tackling, but it got to the point where I was told ‘Dre, if you can knock somebody out without pads on, imagine what you can do if you do have pads.’ So it just became about getting fear out of my body, don’t be scared to make contact, don’t be scared to go and make a play. If you can do it with no pads, you can definitely do it when you put pads on.”
But football wasn’t always Zouzoua’s focus. In fact, it was far from the first thing on his mind once he left high school.
“I didn’t even think about football after high school to be honest,” Zouzoua said. “My grades were in shambles, my head wasn’t on right, didn’t have a plan for the future, so I was going to be a Marine. Then Coach Jackson, at the time he coached at Bridgton Academy, he said “I think you can play for me.” Then after Bridgton I thought maybe I could go a little higher. So I took the JUCO route.”
Zouzoua was a multi-sport athlete in high school, playing basketball and running track. He was a state qualifier in both shot put and discus, and he qualified for the 100-meter relay team as well. And he still has that speed on the football field, as he’s been timed running a 4.55 second 40-yard dash.
After high school, Zouzoua enrolled at Bridgton Academy for a year in prep school. He then ended up at Monroe Community College, and he’s in his second year there currently. So far in his career with Monroe, Zouzoua has 29 tackles, 7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles in 15 recorded games.
Though he’s been up north in New York for school and has lived in Massachusetts, Niadre wants to head down south for college. And he says it’s because of that that the SEC has a certain appeal to him.
“Most of my family is in North Carolina. I have some family in Georgia,” he explained. “If my family isn’t down south, they’re down in Africa where my father’s from.”
Niadre’s father has been a very influential figure in his life. His dad was part of a warrior tribe in the Ivory Coast in Africa, and Niadre keeps that heritage close to his heart.
“That’s just been in everything I do. In the way I walk, in the way I talk, the way I play, it’s even in the way I run. It’s in everything I do. It’s who I am,” he stated. “My father had a hard time coming from a warrior tribe and making it to America. So that right there, I already know I have to live up to what he was able to do.
“Having that part of me, I just gotta make something, gotta do something. I gotta make him proud, gotta make the family proud, gotta make the people back home proud.”
Right now, Zouzoua’s focus is on the rest of this season with Monroe and helping his team get to a bowl game. But he says he plans on taking visits once the season is over, and Tennessee will be in consideration once he does.
Zouzoua’s next game will be this Saturday when Monroe hosts another notable New York junior college team, ASA College. Zouzoua’s team lost to Lackawanna two weekends ago, the JUCO school where current Tennessee defensive tackle commit Savion Williams plays.