March 8, 2017

Laurier’s Boateng gives new meaning to ‘hard work’

Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

The scout had seen enough tape.

“He’s a heck of a football player; explosive off the edge, his pursuit is second to none in the OUA,” says the talent purveyor. “He’s quite an individual too — smartest guy at Laurier, they say…”

Everybody’s read the reports on Laurier Golden Hawks defensive lineman Kwaku Boateng: Agile for a big man, with the leadership qualities and work ethic to excel at the professional level, the Milton, Ont. native is poised to be selected in the first round of April’s CFL Draft.

Boateng: A 6-foot-2, 250-pound freak of an athlete. Laurier’s all-time sack leader. Two-time Academic All-Canadian. The embodiment of Laurier Football’s turnaround, highlighted by a Yates Cup conference championship this past November, under young head coach Michael Faulds.

“To go 1-7 in my first year, with a new coaching staff and culture, then be 7-1 with a Yates Cup at the end (of my career) is a great Cinderella story,” says Boateng, who sits sixth on the CFL Scouting Bureau’s December rankings. “It comes down to faith, hard work and dedication — that Yates Cup final alone, the comeback and never-die attitude, symbolized how hard we worked all four years I was here.”

 

Virtually every football team prides itself on hard work; whether it be summer camp in the sweltering heat of August or a full-on blizzard come playoff time, college teams across the continent can be seen rocking t-shirts with slogans championing their ‘grit,’ and ‘hard work’.

But at Laurier, the motto has been ingrained into every aspect of the program by Faulds, a two-time Yates Cup champion as a quarterback at Western (2007, 2008). The Golden Hawks will run you to death, then dare you to challenge their battle-tested front seven on defence.

“Our biggest focus is outworking others,” says Faulds, who took over at Laurier after a brief stint as York’s offensive coordinator. “Kwaku is a big reason for our program’s development and the change in culture.”

In addition to being a dogged defensive end, Boateng brought a unique passion for education to the Golden Hawks program.

“There was a stigma that you could be good (either) on the field or in the classroom, but Kwaku quickly broke that,” explains Faulds. “Not only was Kwaku arguably our best player, he also had the team’s highest GPA every year. The job of our coaches is that much easier when your best players are doing things right and setting a good example on and off the field.”

In search of a better life

To understand Kwaku Boateng’s unique drive, one must look at his background.

His father, Agnyiem, emigrated from his native Ghana to Canada at age 22 in search of, like so many other immigrants, a better life.

“He knew that Ghana was a great place, but he wanted to improve the lives of his (children),” explains Kwaku, whose social media handles are decked out with the motto Ghana’s Very Own. “He set out here and worked very hard at two or three jobs to sponsor us over.”

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Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

Boateng added to his sack total by taking down Queens University’s quarterback Nate Hobbs (Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics)

To this day, Boateng’s roots and family — Agnyiem, mother Afua, and a trio of siblings — are a constant motivator in his daily activities, whether it be a late-night study grind or early-morning lift.

“Whenever I’m doing something on or off the field, I always remember the hard work that my parents have put in in hopes of building my life,” reflects the big defensive end. “I come from a hard-working, dedicated family who have sacrificed to help me get to this point.”

As the curtain comes down on his memorable collegiate career, there is one thing that Boateng wants straightened. For the record.

“Statistically, I was an Academic All-Canadian every year,” says the barrel-chested Laurier No. 3, who was left off the award in his final two seasons. “I had an over-80 average every year, but I was in a co-op program at Laurier (and) the All-Canadians don’t like it when you’re not in school for a traditional academic year.”

Though he may not have followed a classic school schedule, Boateng — who sees himself as a CFO or CEO at a financial firm post-football — clearly feels he earned the recognition for his work in the classroom.

Consider his taxing schedule; 5:30 a.m. wakeup, 6 a.m. workout, food, then four to five hours of class, then meetings and practices beginning at 4 p.m. — not factoring in the homework of Laurier’s well-respected business co-op program.

“It pretty much just comes down to a late-night grind sometimes, knocking off chunks of work at a time,” says the Bishop Reding Catholic graduate. “Taking steps and being proactive, that’s how you become successful as a student athlete — you grind to get everything you can, that’s the culture at Laurier, and I’m so thankful to have experienced that.”

Extra attention

They say the best players not only shine, but also make those around them better.

If the overall performance of the Laurier D-line in 2016 is any indication, Boateng did just that for the Golden Hawks last season.

“There were some games where teams would just run away from me all day,” he admits. “They would cut me every play — lots of double teams — but we led the nation in sacks this year, and that shows how diverse and powerful our D-line was.”

With teams game-planning for Boateng, opportunities opened up for the likes of Jalen Price and Trevaughan James, both of whom rose to the occasion to solidify the heart of the Laurier defence.

Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics

Boateng hoists the Yates Cup after his team’s comeback victory over Western in 2016 (Kha Vo/Laurier Athletics)

“You might shut me down for a couple plays, but when the guys beside me are taking care of you, you know you’re going up against a tough defence,” says Boateng. “My hard work sometimes goes unnoticed, but as long as I know somebody’s cleaning up, coming off the edge and making you pay, it’s all good.”

Somebody was, indeed, cleaning up: Laurier led the country with 36 sacks and earned its first Uteck Bowl appearance since 2005.

“Kwaku attracted so much attention from other teams that it gave other defensive linemen and linebackers 1-on-1’s,” explains Coach Faulds, whose team has another player — linebacker Nakas Onyeka (no. 18) — on the CFL’s Top-20 draft ranking. “Kwaku had six sacks this season, but the whole unit had an impressive total because of the attention that he garnered.”

The 2017 calendar year will have plenty in store for Boateng; from the draft combine through his university graduation to his first CFL training camp, the powerful defensive end has plenty to look forward to.

However, it’s important when on the cusp of a new chapter to reflect and celebrate the previous one.

Kwaku Boateng helped redefine Laurier’s football program, excelling both in the class and on the football field. Whichever team selects him in this May’s CFL Draft will be getting not only an impact player on the field, but an impactful person off it.

Boateng and 70 other professional hopefuls will be drafted on May 7. For more features and analysis during the run-up to the big day, keep it locked on CFL.ca.