Golden Hawk great, Nakas Onyeka reflects on his time at Laurier and his Hall of Fame induction
“Grateful, surprised, shocked.”
Those were the three adjectives, Laurier alumni, All-Canadian linebacker, CFL veteran and now Golden Hawk Hall of famer, Nakas Onyeka used to describe his induction into the 2021 Hall of Fame class.
“To be completely honest, I was shocked, it felt like a blessing,” said Onyeka. “Obviously from a football aspect I have accomplished a few things, All-Canadian, being drafted to the CFL, Grey Cup champion, but essentially all of that started at Laurier.”
Onyeka undoubtedly left his mark on the Laurier football program as one of the best players to have worn the purple and gold. Carving out a stellar football career, the accolades are endless for Nakas – a CIS All-Canadian, a two-time OUA All-star, winner of the 2016 Laurier president’s award as top male athlete and a Yates Cup champion with the remarkable 2016 Laurier football team – Onyeka was a force on the defensive side of the ball.
More then football however, the 6’1, 217-pound Brampton native was known for his leadership, personality and perpetual smile throughout his four years at Laurier. Since joining the team in 2013, the same year that Michael Faulds was hired as head coach of the men’s football program, Onyeka grew on the football filed and showed tremendous growth as a person.
“There is no one that wears his heart on their sleeve more,” Coach Faulds said of Onyeka.
“Over my time here, there was not a better leader. He wasn’t the biggest guy, wasn’t the strongest guy, wasn’t the fastest guy, but he played with the most heart,” Faulds continued, calling the hall of fame linebacker a “little Pitbull,” when he was on the field.
Onyeka who is of Nigerian descent was not heavily recruited by Canadian universities coming out of high school and he didn’t start during his first or second year with Laurier. However, his mindset and work ethic, combined with his unwavering ability to motivate the entire team, led to an ultra-successful career. Not only at Laurier but also in the CFL, where he was a 2017 Grey Cup champion with the Toronto Argonauts and currently plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, during his fifth season in Canada’s top football league.
“It’s not like I was somebody who was super heavily recruited,” Onyeka said. “When I was 17 and just graduating high school, Coach Faulds was honestly one of the only people who believed in me and my ability.”
Faulds and Onyeka developed an extremely close relationship during their time together with the Golden Hawks. A relationship Onyeka described as “much more then a coach-player relationship.”
“We were friends. I could go to him with personal stuff going on in my life, he could make jokes with me that were beyond football, I’d go into his office and talk to him about life and that helped me,” Onyeka said.
“Seeing how much of his time, his effort and his souled that he poured into us, I could do nothing but reciprocate that,” Onyeka continued. As Faulds was quoted in his first year, saying that he could “100 per cent coach 100 Nakas Onyeka’s.”
The decision by Onyeka to join Laurier was a rather easy one, as he was impressed with the small campus aspect and community feel of the school, calling it a “little village”– a feeling many Laurier students share.
Onyeka also felt that the football program truly cared for its student-athletes not only on the field but off the field as well, crediting Coach Faulds and the entire Laurier coaching staff for installing a great culture into the team. A culture that he wholeheartedly believes led to the team’s success.
“I honestly believed in everything Coach Faulds was saying,” Onyeka said. Thinking back to his recruiting trip where Faulds told Onyeka that the team “wasn’t good” at the time and needed player like Nakas to “get good.”
“There was a genuine care and level of respect from the top down. That definitely affected play and it was reflected across the whole team,” said Onyeka.
After his first two seasons which featured a smaller role and far less playing time, Onyeka busted onto the scene in 2015, recording 48 tackles, two sacks and his only interception. The 2016 team was special on many fronts and Onyeka was a pivotal part of it, as he also won the OUA Men’s football president’s award that year putting forth a career best season.
In his 38 games with the Golden Hawks, including six playoff games, Onyeka finished his career with 194 tackles, nine sacks, along with seven forced fumbles.
He was the first Laurier player off the board in the following 2017 CFL Draft, having been selected 36th overall by his hometown team – the Toronto Argonauts. Just five selections later, teammate and fellow 2021 Laurier Hall of Famer, Kwaku Boateng was selected by the Edmonton Elks.
“Me and Kwaku have been together for three years. Both of us essentially growing up together, being selected to the CFL together, and then being inducted into the hall of fame, it was something that kind of went full circle,” Onyeka said.
Onyeka joined Boateng, and five other members in the prestigious 2021 Laurier Hall of Fame class, along with the 2004 Yates Cup winning football team – the last provincial championship before Onyeka, Boateng and Faulds won in 2016.
In terms of his favourite memories at Laurier, Onyeka of course mentioned the Yates cup.
“The Yates Cup is bar non the top, just because it was an accumulation of four years of hard work,” Onyeka said. While Laurier went on to lose in the national semi-finals against Laval, he said he will always remember the trip and gameplan against one of the top schools in the nation.
Being the leader that he is, Onyeka also mentioned a community “powder puff tournament” that Laurier football competed in as one of his favourite memories from his years.
“A bunch of the guys on the football team coached women’s flag football and it was the most competitive thing in the world. It’s one of the things that I look back at when I think about my four years, it was genuinely very fun,” said Onyeka.
Onyeka continues to be a champion on and off the field as he has plans to travel to Nigeria to educate the youth and grow the game of football in Africa. He has run various football camps in the Kitchener-Waterloo area during the summer.
Just last week Onyeka was re-signed by the Roughriders after playing two games with Winnipeg earlier this season. The opportunity connects Onyeka with his cousin and fellow Golden Hawk alumni, Godfrey Onyeka who is also on Saskatchewan.
As a man of great success and wisdom beyond his years, Onyeka’s advice to current OUA football players, especially first or second-year athletes is to focus on school.
“That was the number one thing Coach Faulds emphasized and I feel at a young age a lot of people don’t understand that until it’s too late,” speaking about the importance of balance between being a student and an athlete.
“In order to see the fruits of your labour from an athletic standpoint, you need to take care of everything academically,” Onyeka said.
Onyeka would stay true to his academics and often study in the Hawk lounge located in the Athletic Complex. A distinguished room showcasing Laurier’s Hall of famers and displaying coaches/student-athletes who have made an outstanding contribution to the Golden Hawks.
After carving out an incredible football career and making his mark on the program, both on and off the field, Onyeka has now rightfully earned his own spot in that prestigious Athletic Complex room.