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March 17, 2011Karou Diakite is not your typical American teenager. He was born in Stockholm, Sweden, the son of a diplomat. He's fluent in four languages - Portuguese, Spanish, French and English - and the one he speaks at home is not English (it's Portuguese). He's an honor-roll student, a selfless benefactor, a tireless worker and a humble friend. He's been called a role model for his peers and adults.
"He's one of those people you just want to be around," said one of his best friends at Winston Churchill High, Curtis Kamara. "He's so talented and he has so much to give. There's just so much you can learn from him."
"And he's not one of these prima donnas with a big head," chimed in Churchill football coach Joe Allen. "He's a class kid. You don't typically find that maturity among kids his age."
Indeed, Diakite is a rare breed. And we're not just talking about his personality and the fact that he's quadrilingual, either.
You just don't find many 6-foot-4, 300-pound manchild's with the intensity of a WWE wrestler walking around.
"Let me tell you, Karou is one big human being," said Allen of his junior defensive tackle. "He has long arms, he's quick on his feet and he just had a motor. He gets mean out there and he'll just run you over."
Yes, with that body and those skills it seems Diakite was destined to play football. At least, that's what everyone assumed.
But Diakite was like the 6-foot-10 guy you meet in the grocery store. You're first thought is he must be a basketball player -- what else could he be? But more often then not he's just some random desk-sitting CPA who happens to have two tall parents.
Like that 6-10 guy, Diakite didn't take to the gridiron right away. Sure, he grew up in Sweden, where football is about as familiar as cricket is to Americans. But he moved to Maryland when he was six years old and even had two cousins who suited up for East Carolina's football team. But that didn't sway him.
"Where I grew up, it was all about soccer and basketball," Diakite said. "Those were always my sports. Football wasn't even on my mind. I just never got involved with it."
But that changed when he got to high school. Giant 300 pounders don't come along everyday, and when Allen took a look at the big freshman he had to have him.
Problem was, Diakite had never donned a helmet and shoulder pads in his life. He looked more like an awkward oaf then a man-eating tackle.
"He was uncoordinated," Allen said. "His body had not caught up to him yet."
Diakite struggled; he didn't even start on the jayvee. That's understandable given his inexperience, but Diakite was lackadaisical. He was involved in so many other activities that he didn't necessarily take football seriously. Instead of working his butt off in the offseason, he gave it a half-hearted effort.
When Diakite came into summer workouts out of shape, Churchill promptly stuck him right back on the junior varsity. But first Allen had a little chat with the big defensive tackle.
"Coach was asking what my priorities were at the time, if I really wanted to play football," Diakite said. "I'm not going to lie, I was a little lazy and I wasn't dedicated. I felt like I was letting the team down. Coach told it to me straight and that got me thinking about what I really wanted to do."
Just like that, the proverbial switch had flipped. Diakite realized his size was a gift and it would be a shame to waste it. He decided he wanted to play Division-I college football.
"After we talked, he dedicated himself to reshaping his body," Allen said. "Now, we have to kick him out of the weight room every day."
That's not surprising. Diakite, an unabashed type-A personality, was already hardwired for hard work. He attacked football training the same way he did learning four languages, finishing his classroom work and participating in a multitude of extracurricular activities. Simply put, he went all out.
"I lift like six days a week now," said Diakite, who squats close to 500 pounds and benches close to 300. "The weight room has become a fun, relaxing place for me. Whenever I'm mad or having problems, I take out my anger on the weights."
It's not just weights, either. He signed up for a speed-training program, he went to linemen camps and he continued to play soccer to improve his footwork.
Now, that's not atypical for many motivated football players. But Diakite took his workouts to the extreme: he started doing mixed-martial arts.
"When I decided to live a football lifestyle I got involved with MMA," Diakite said. "It helped me a lot with footwork and quickness. Being 300 pounds, you need all the help you can get (laughs)."
MMA skills in hand, Diakite earned a varsity promotion midway through his sophomore season. He didn't see much action, but in the last game of the season Allen threw him into the fire. The raw defensive tackle responded by recording his first varsity sack and a handful of quarterback pressures.
"I knew at that point," Allen said, "that he could really be something special."
That game gave Diakite confidence heading into the offseason. With an entire winter to hone his skills, Diakite had a chance to take his game to an elite level. When he came to camp that summer, he had the frame of a professional bodybuilder and the intensity of an ex-convict.
"He was just a big, scary dude," said Kamara, the team's starting running back. "Luckily I never had to go against him one-on-one in practice. He'll kill you."
Northwest found that out first hand. Early in the Week 5 game, Churchill had the ball at the Jaguars' 5-yard line. Diakite, who had to play both ways because of an injury to one of the starting offensive tackles, was ready to pound.
Allen called for a simple power-run behind Diakite. He proceeded to lift the defensive end off his feet and toss him into the end zone like a stray garbage bag. Kamara, meanwhile, waltzed in for the score.
"He just mauled the kid," Kamara said. "It was pretty amazing."
By the end of the season Diakite had established himself as an All-Conference player, according to the Montgomery Gazette. But considering he's only been playing football for two years, he still has plenty of work to do.
"He still has a ways to go, but he has a huge upside," Allen said. "I'm confident he'll realize his potential. Sure, he has all the physical tools, but he does the little things that make you a great football player. He's very smart and he has a burning desire to compete. That's what sets him apart. That's why he'll be great."
Almost overnight, Diakite has made himself into a potential Division-I football player. Colleges like Penn State and Maryland are already looking hard at him. With one more awesome season, he could be the first Division-I player Churchill has produced since Matt Leemhuis went to Virginia in 2006.
"When I set my mind to something, it gets done," Diakite said. "I'll do whatever I need to do to get [to the Division-I level]. I'll do whatever it takes to dominate."
A rare breed indeed.