LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It’s been a while since Louisville linebacker MoMo Sanogo has felt like this.
“I just feel like I'm in the best shape I've been able to be in since before 2019,” he said.
That was after the best season of Sanogo’s career.
In 2018 at Ole Miss, he broke out for the Rebels, finishing fifth in the SEC in total tackles with 112. Sanogo added 6.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, showing people the type of player he can be.
"I have a really good knack for the ball and am always around it,” Sanogo said. “I'm a physical player.”
Then just two games into 2019, he suffered a setback that would start to change the path of his collegiate career.
It was the Rebels’ home opener vs. SEC West rival Arkansas. Ole Miss was set to punt on its first possession and the linebacker was on the punt team. One of the Rebel gunners missed a tackle on the Razorback return.
“And then I was taking the angle on the ball carrier, somebody from the opposite side came across, missed, then just smacked and took my leg out,” Sanogo recalled. “I knew right away like, ‘Yeah, that's not good.’”
He had broken his right ankle, ending his junior season.
The former Rebel captain did return in 2020, but saw his role diminish. Sanogo played in 23 games over 2020 and 2021, recording just a combined 86 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Another injury added to his issues, as Sanogo said he had a herniated disc in his back that has affected him for the past 18 months. Overall, he just felt off and not fully in tune with his body.
"It's hard to go back to that trust, trusting that your ankle is going to support you and that you can do certain things without being in pain,” Sanogo said. “And sometimes, that getting in your head just makes you think you're in pain, but you're not. But I've had time to work through that. I know how to trust my body."
With a year of eligibility remaining, Sanogo entered the transfer portal.
He didn’t go into detail when asked what ultimately led him to leave Ole Miss, citing “personal situations.”
“There were some unfortunate circumstances at Ole Miss,” Sanogo explained. “I love the place, but it was time to go. I felt like it was better for me to be somewhere else. And it was really about putting myself in the best situation to accomplish my dream and goal of playing in the NFL.”
The veteran didn’t post much about his recruitment on social media. He wanted a team that he thought could compete for a championship and prepare him to become a pro. And Louisville wasn’t initially on his radar.
"I never even knew Louisville was in Kentucky before we played them last year,” Sanogo said with a laugh.
But when he met with Louisville linebackers coach Derek Nicholson, they had a connection. He said the two watched three hours of film together, with Nicholson praising his instincts and potential.
Since joining UofL, Sanogo's had to gradually progress to feeling like himself physically. He said he feels 100% on his ankle and can run without being in pain, while his back has recovered after feeling effects from it during spring practices.
The linebacker said he’s been working on trusting his instincts more and Nicholson has helped. Nicholson said Sanogo recognizes things quicker than others.
“'If you act on those recognitions all the time, people will be confused by how you get there so fast. And it's because you already know where the ball is,'" he said Nicholson told him.
The senior Cardinal thinks he brings a finishing mentality Louisville lacked last season in too many close losses.
Sanogo steps into a major void left by former standout linebacker CJ Avery, a respected Louisville leader. He has heard plenty of stories about Avery, but leads in a more vocal way, something Scott Satterfield has noticed.
"He's come in this spring and been a great leader for us, a great mouthpiece on that side of the ball that you need,” Satterfield said. “You got Monty [Montgomery] right beside him and Monty loves to talk. The energy that they play off each other is really going energize our defense."
"The very last practice I had in spring ball, I was like, ‘Guys, this is my last practice, we're partying,’” Sanogo said. “’Every play is a party, every big play is a party.’”
He finally feels free enough to enjoy all of it again. But most importantly, Sanogo trusts himself and his instincts enough again to make it all pay off.
"Don’t worry about messing up, take a shot,” Sanogo said of that feeling. “Take a chance, trust what you see. And it's been working."