The Laurier men’s football season was capped off in phenomenal fashion, as the Hawks came back against the Western Mustangs to lift the Yates Cup.
Two key players behind the Hawks’ title winning campaign were defensive lineman Kwaku Boateng and linebacker Nakas Onyeka.
Boateng led the team in a number of defensive categories, including sacks, forced fumbles and knockdowns, while Onyeka lead the team in total tackles.
Their outstanding performances throughout the season has earned them high praise. The CFL scouting bureau has ranked Boateng as the number six overall prospect and Onyeka was ranked as the number 18 overall prospect as of the rankings that were put out in early December.
Boateng and Onyeka discussed the Hawks’ season and their preparation for the CFL draft.
For Boateng, this journey started at the beginning of high school.
“I started to play football in grade nine. I just really enjoyed playing the sport and have been playing ever since,” he said.
Boateng is Laurier’s all time sack leader. He has also been a Second Team All-Canadian, First Team All-Star and an All-Rookie, just to name a few of his accomplishments.
Even though Boateng has a long list of individual accomplishments and awards, he gave all the credit to his teammates and coaching staff for his great Laurier career.
“The combination of all my personal awards comes down to how our team does overall. I was blessed to have a great coaching staff and great teammates by my side that pushed me, which makes the game a lot more fun and takes my game to another level,” he said.
Contrary to Boateng, Onyeka had to stay patient to get his chance. He didn’t get much playing time in his first year with the Hawks, but he didn’t let that discourage him.
“I knew coming in that the situation was going to be a part of it. The coaches worked me through and I knew I wasn’t ready to play. But I knew my time would come and it did. My waiting definitely paid dividends because it allowed me to become the player I am now,” said Onyeka.
The coaching staff took their time with Onyeka and their patience paid off, as Onyeka developed into a defensive force for the Hawks.
Since Onyeka didn’t start out as a starting linebacker for the Hawks, it would have been hard for anyone to predict that he would one day be preparing for the CFL draft.
But Onyeka never lost faith.
“I’ve always had high hopes. I’m just a really competitive person. Making the CFL wasn’t an immediate goal at first, but seeing older players going through the draft process motivated me to get to where I am,” he said.
When asked to comment about his preparation for the CFL draft, Boateng mentioned that it takes much more of a mental toll than a physical toll.
“The hard part is just the waiting. It’s less of a physical battle and more of a mental battle because when you’re training for the combine it’s not always about the physicality, it’s also about getting the attitude down,” Boateng said.
“The physical aspect mostly includes how fast your hands are, improving your stance, turning your hips. I think that’s the biggest transition. It’s no longer just about strength. It’s more so how athletic can you really be.”
Onyeka pointed towards time management as the toughest aspect of draft preparation.
“It’s really hard to manage time when you have speed training one day, strength training the next day, along with constant school, extra curricular activities, etc. I basically have a four-day week to get all the stuff down.”
One can only imagine how hard it must be for athletes like Boateng and Onyeka to mentally prepare months ahead of the combine and the draft. The waiting game consists of months of preparation leading up to just a few days that decide your fate for years to come.
Making a career out of football is not an easy decision to make due to the inherent risk in the sport. The physical nature of football surpasses other popular sports such as basketball, hockey, soccer, baseball, etc.
Many football players report head injuries even after their career is over and this affects their lives after football.
Boateng discussed the physicality of the sport, especially the concussion concerns that have risen from football over the past few years.
“The way I play, I almost play like a rugby player. I try focusing on tackling just the legs. There’s a big push for a healthier tackling style in the league. A combination of all that helps decrease the concussion concerns a lot,” Boateng said.
“But at the end of the day, concussions aren’t something to joke about, which is why I have a back up plan which is my [business administration] degree. So I’m not too worried about it because I know if it ever comes down to that point, I’ll be prepared to move on.”
It is easy to see why Boateng completed his business administration degree before even thinking about becoming a professional football player. The injury risk in a sport like football provides no guarantees.
But, with a Yates Cup win under their belt, it’s important for Boateng and Onyeka to realize the potential they have to play professionally. It was a joyous moment for Laurier students when the Hawks completed the comeback against Western to win the Yates Cup.
Boateng and Onyeka commented on what winning the Yates Cup last fall meant to them and the entire team.
“It was pretty exciting. It was a great way to wrap up my career here at Laurier,” Boateng said.
“It kind of embodied all of the hard work we put into this team. Since my first year, we went 1-7 to flipping that around and going 7-1. It definitely means a lot. It was a great victory and it was something I’ll always appreciate.”
Onyeka explained that the team felt like it was their time to take the win.
“Obviously being down 21 points isn’t the most ideal situation in the world, but we were able to keep faith. Our coaches always preached faith and pride. We felt like we were a really prideful team. We never felt like we were down and out.”
As for the future, both players are hopeful to still keep playing the game they love.
“Being drafted and playing in the CFL is what I hope for. I want to pave the way for younger guys the way older players did for me. I’m sort of a role model for the current players and I think me going through this can pave the way for whatever they go through in the future,” Onyeka said.
There is no doubt that Boateng and Onyeka were special players for the Hawks.
Both will be great additions to whichever CFL team that drafts them and it will be exciting, to say the least, to see where they end up.