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Calijah Kancey’s drive and mindset led him to NFL draft
Calijah Kancey won the 2022 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. (Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

Calijah Kancey’s drive and mindset led him to NFL draft

Editor’s note: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected DT Calijah Kancey with the No. 19 pick in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27.

PITTSBURGH (BVM) – In a matter of weeks, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey will become a highly-touted draft selection for one of the NFL’s 32 franchises. According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper, he is the No. 2 defensive tackle in this year’s class.

This past season, he was a consensus first-team All-American and took home the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He capped off his college career with 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2022.

But before he became the football talent that he is, Kancey was just a Miami kid with an admiration for the game that he would hope to one day play.

“Growing up in Miami, Florida, football is everything,” Kancey said. “A football is the first thing I touched. Football has always been a part of me and my family. It’s something I fell in love with at the age of 4.”

When Kancey got to high school, he attended Miami Northwestern and played for its prestigious football program. The Bulls have produced NFL talents such as Amari Cooper, Teddy Bridgewater, Tutu Atwell and others.

But by the end of his time there, Kancey had put himself among the school’s best. 

He finished his senior year with 110 tackles and helped lead Miami Northwestern to back-to-back state titles.

Despite his accomplishments, he still was not a super highly-rated high school recruit.

Kancey was ranked as the No. 110 player in the state and the No. 837 player in the country according to 247 Sports.

But long before he was a prospect himself, Kancey had always loved watching the draft growing up. Because of that, he knew high school rankings did not matter in the long run.

“Guys can get picked up from anywhere,” Kancey said. “Coaches recognize talent. That’s something that boosted my confidence. I knew wherever I went, I just had to make plays so they can come and get me.”

Following his high school career, he found his home with the University of Pittsburgh.

Over the course of four seasons, Kancey racked up 92 tackles with 34.5 tackles for loss for the Panthers. But his lasting memories of the school and community will be a reflection of his off-the-field experience there.

“I’ve made connections with people that I’ll know the rest of my life,” Kancey said. “I’ve built a lot of bonds with coaches, players and great, genuine people in the city of Pittsburgh. I just want to thank them for having me here.”

The education factor was also big for Kancey. He’s a first-generation college graduate in his family, something he considers to be one of his biggest accomplishments.

Once Kancey finished up his time on the field and in the classroom at Pitt, it was time to start preparing for the NFL draft. 

Throughout this process, one common player comparison he has received is Aaron Donald due to his size and alma mater.

While he is flattered to be mentioned alongside him, he is focused on being himself on the field.

“It’s awesome to be compared to a guy of that caliber and all that he has accomplished during his time playing football,” Kancey said. “But at the end of the day, I’m Calijah Kancey and he’s Aaron Donald.”

Also similar to Donald, Kancey loves to cook. 

One of his biggest passions outside of football is getting behind the grill, cooking any type of meat he can get a hold of. Even with his big upcoming payday, Kancey does not need anything special to cook up a good meal.

“I’ve got a little $40 grill from Walmart and that gets the job done,” Kancey said.

This is also the same mindset Kancey carries to the field. 

While he could set the luxurious goals of leading in certain statistics or winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, he keeps it simple. Once he gets drafted, Kancey is more focused on getting better with every single rep. Then the rest will take care of itself.

“I just want to be the best version of myself and be the best teammate anyone could ask for,” Kancey said. “I just want to play football.”