How American Football Helped These Immigrant Brothers Accept Being Different

Komotay Koffie is coming out of Landow Performance in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, USA, where he has just completed another training session in his quest to join his brother, Indianapolis Colts rusher Kwity Paye, in the NFL.

“I’m not even supposed to be here,” offers Koffie, 25, a chiseled 6-foot-1-inch (185cm), 200-pound (90.7kg) defensive back from northern Colorado who was born in a refugee camp. in Sierra Leone.

He’s not worried about the break he’s taking on the eve of his pro day at college, where he’ll perform 20 reps on the bench press and solidify his status as a potential pick for Day 3.

What he means is that he shouldn’t even be here in the United States.

When war followed their family to Guinea, where Kwity was born, Agnes Paye contacted her grandmother in Rhode Island, who agreed to sponsor her so she could move to the United States.

Except she failed to put the children’s names on the immigration affidavit. It was hard enough leaving the boys’ father behind; abandoning her young children was out of the question.

“I told them I couldn’t leave my babies,” she said.

A woman processing her papers fell in love with her precocious children and added the names of the boys under Agnes – Komotay and Kwity are full-blood brothers; their different surnames are a cultural tradition – and all three have been granted passage to a better life.

“It was just a blessing,” Agnes said. “I knew God had a better place for these children.

“We were just coming to survive, to be at peace, a place where you don’t have to get up in the morning and run for your life or worry about finding food.”

Yet even in the United States, she found herself keeping her boys away from the sounds of gunfire that occasionally rocked their modest apartment.

To keep them out of the streets and out of trouble, she signed them up for sports at the Boys & Girls Club – soccer, basketball, track and field. When the football season started, she signed them up for it too.

When they got to that first practice and heard the thud of bodies crashing into each other, “we were scared to play,” Koffie said.

When the coaches asked all the children to bring their birth certificates the next day, the brothers, who were years away from becoming US citizens, could only provide their immigration cards.

“It looked like a mug shot with all those fancy numbers,” Koffie recalled, “and I remember me and Kwity being embarrassed to even pull them out because they singled us out.”

It was one more thing to laugh at, along with their accentuated English and West African diet. Those taunts, however, “only added to our fire,” Koffie said.

“It was like, ‘OK, you want to bring us out and tease us like we’re different, we’re going to show you how different we are,'” Koffie recalled.

The brothers made a pact to run faster and hit harder than the other kids.

“When we stepped onto the football pitch, it was like no one could compare to us. We were on a whole different level. We stood out,” he said.

They quickly won over their teammates and quickly learned the ins and outs of the game.

“And that’s when we fell in love with it,” Koffie said.

So they made another vow to do whatever they could to thank their mother, who worked long hours as a nursing assistant, for all she had done to give them a better life.

“I remember we were in our bedroom one night, we were between 10 and 8 years old and we promised ourselves that we would do everything we could to get her out of there,” Koffie said.

His younger brother became a 6-foot-2 (188 cm), 260-pound (118 kg) defensive end who, after playing at Bishop Hendrickson, a Catholic academy in Warwick, Rhode Island, excelled at the University of Michigan on his way to becoming a first-round pick in last year’s NFL Draft.

“The first thing he did was retire my mom and buy her a car,” Koffie said. “Then he started working to find her a nice home.”

If Koffie can join his little brother in the NFL, he wants to bring in their father, who didn’t have a sponsor like their mother did when she fled war nearly a quarter century ago.

“The war separated them all those years ago, but they’re back together now, they’re engaged,” Koffie said. “I want to try to bring him here to America so we can all be family again.”

Agnes is nervous ahead of this year’s draft.

“With Kwity, we were sure,” she said. “For Komotay, I’m just a little nervous and praying someone gives him a chance because he’s a fighter.”

At age 15, he moved with a family friend to Tennessee to face better competition and try to get a college scholarship.

After three seasons at Knoxville Central High School, Koffie transferred to Milford Academy in New York for his final season.

He played a year of junior college ball at North Dakota College of Sciences, earning that coveted New Mexico State University Division I scholarship.

He moved to northern Colorado for his final season so he could play for head coach Ed McCaffrey and secondary coach Jimmy Spencer, who had 25 years of NFL experience.

He earned his criminal justice degree when the pandemic wiped out the Bears’ 2021 season, then provided leadership and savvy play in McCaffrey’s inaugural season in 2022 while his younger brother played his rookie season in Indianapolis.

“My brother took a straight route to the NFL and my route was up and down,” said Koffie, who played safety, cornerback, nickelback and inside linebacker, a versatility that he hopes will he, makes him an attractive prospect for someone.

“I’m just hoping for an opportunity,” Koffie said. “The thing with me, once I get my foot in the door, I’ll take care of the rest.”

Here’s the amazing part: Despite their two-year age difference and divergent backgrounds, the brothers never played football together.

“We were never on the same pitch either. We trained at different times,” Koffie said. “So my brother never saw me play.”

That could soon change.

“I just spoke to him last night,” Koffie said. “I thought, ‘Would it be crazy to be on the same pitch warming up? I tell you, it would probably be a very emotional moment to look across the grass and see each other.

Realizing a dream and a promise, together. – PA

About Betty J. Snyder

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