Sylvain Yondjouen’s path to Georgia Tech began in Belgium, went through Philadelphia, took a detour in Arizona and ultimately concluded in Atlanta, where the defensive end prospect from Ruisbroek, Belgium, is scheduled to begin classes Monday. Central to the journey is new coach Geoff Collins.
“I want to be part of coach Collins’ way of winning!” Yondjouen (pronounced “yun-JOO-in”) wrote in an email.
Only time will tell, but he could become a star defensive end for the Yellow Jackets. Yondjouen, who is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, has been timed in the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and has a wingspan of 6’11” and a broad jump of 10’6”. (The best broad jump by a defensive lineman at last year’s NFL combine was 10’8”.) His highlight videos show quick feet, flexibility and an explosive first step. Given that he only began playing at 16, there’s ample room for development with Collins and new defensive line coach Jim Panagos.
Brandon Collier, a former college-football player who runs a European-based scouting service, told the AJC in an email that Yondjouen “has it all.”
“He will be an instant-impact kid,” Collier wrote.
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Yondjouen fits Collins’ high priority on recruits with length (height and reach).
“So getting a young man like Sylvain to flip was huge because he was committed to another university (Arizona), and to make that decision to come here and join us on the Flats was awesome,” Collins said after his signing in December.
Yondjouen’s dreams of the NFL, while distant, don’t seem unreasonable. They’re certainly a lot closer than they were when he was 16 and had never previously played. Yondjouen grew up playing soccer but became interested in football through a friend who played.
“I decided to go to a practice just to see what it was like and was welcomed by the players and the coaches and really liked the game a lot,” Yondjouen wrote.
Through that experience, Yondjouen began playing with the Brussels Football Academy. (His hometown of Ruisbroek is just outside Brussels, the capital of Belgium.)
Last summer, Yondjouen visited the U.S. on a tour of college camps with a group of European football prospects called the DreamChasers Tour. The tour is organized by Collier’s PPI recruiting service – Tech fans may remember that Tech received a commitment a year ago from a defensive end from Germany (Julius Welschof) who was connected with the school through PPI before he ultimately signed with Michigan.
Collier, who described Welschof as “a freak,” said that while the Michigan defensive lineman is bigger, Yondjouen is a little more athletic.
The tour included a stop at Temple, where he quickly made a connection with Collins, who offered him a scholarship. Yondjouen said that Collins (along with two assistants who have come to Tech with him, Chris Wiesehan and Panagos) were the only coaches who got in touch with him after he returned to Belgium, and then maintained contact.
“I really appreciated that,” Yondjouen wrote. “And my parents also!”
Ultimately, though, Yondjouen committed to Arizona and most likely would have signed there had Collins not gotten the Tech job in December. After his hire at Tech, Collins invited him to Atlanta for an official visit on the weekend before the early signing period. Yondjouen went, not thinking he would change his mind, but the weekend at Tech – being around the other recruits, team members and Collins, as well as learning more about the school – changed his mind. For instance, the internship opportunities that are available to players and the professional connections post-football made an impression.
“It is also an institute of technology, and that is something I want to be a part of,” Yondjouen wrote. “The second factor is that I like the energy coach Collins shows.”
Yondjouen changed his commitment and signed with Tech, one of 16 high-school signees. He’ll be joined by wide receiver Ahmarean Brown and defensive back Jordan Huff as early enrollees, along with two grad transfers, tight end Tyler Davis (Connecticut) and offensive tackle Jared Southers (Vanderbilt).
Yondjouen is far from Collins’ only recruiting triumph in Europe. He had two Swedish offensive linemen on the roster at Temple (one of whom started two games as a freshman this season) and the Owls signed a third in December. Collins has since offered a scholarship to a defensive tackle from Germany, Joseph Appiah Darkwa. (Collier said that Tech has as good a chance as anyone, although Texas and Penn State also are recruiting him.)
At Tech, Yondjouen will join a position group that is shifting back to a four-man front from a three-man look and will lose ends Anree Saint-Amour, Desmond Branch and Tyler Merriweather to graduation. Given his relative lack of experience, a redshirt season would not be a surprise, though not a given. He’ll get a head start by being able to participate in Collins’ first offseason program and spring practice.
“But,” Yondjouen wrote, “I have to stay humble and realistic first.”
After that, there’s no telling.