Football helped immigrant brothers embrace being different

DENVER (AP) — Komotay Koffie steps up in front of Landow Performance in suburban Denver, where he just finished another training session to join his brother, Indianapolis Colts edge rusher Kwity Paye, in the NFL.

“I shouldn’t even be here,” offers Koffie, 25, a chiseled 6-foot-1, 200-pound defender from northern Colorado who was born in a Sierra Leone refugee camp.

He’s not resenting the break he’s taking on the eve of his college pro day, where he’ll bench press 20 reps and cement his status as a potential Day 3 pick.

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

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

Only she forgot to write the children’s names on the immigration affidavit. It was hard enough leaving the boys’ father behind; There was no way she was going to abandon her little children.

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

A woman handling her paperwork fell in love with her precocious children and added the names of the boys under Agnes – Komotay and Kwity are thoroughbred brothers; Their different surnames are a cultural tradition – and all three have been granted the passage to a better life.

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

“We came just 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 US, she distracted her boys from the gunfire that sometimes rattled their modest apartment.

To keep them off the streets and in trouble, she signed them up to play sports at the Boys & Girls Club. Football, basketball, athletics. As soccer season rolled around, she signed them up for that too.

When they arrived at that first practice session and heard the banging of bodies, “we were scared to play,” Koffie said.

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

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

This was another thing to get excited about, along with their accented English and West African diet. Those taunts “only increased our fire,” Koffie said.

“It was like, ‘OK, you guys want to single 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 got onto the football field, it was like nobody could match us. We were on a whole different level. We excelled,” he said.

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

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

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

“I remember we were in our bedroom one night, we were about 10 and 8 and we promised each other that we would do anything to get her out of there,” Koffie said.

His younger brother developed into a 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end who, after starring at Bishop Hendrickson, a Catholic academy in Warwick, Rhode Island, attended the University of Michigan on his Way to become a first-round pick stood out 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 send for their father, who didn’t have a sponsor like her mother did when she fled the war almost a quarter-century ago.

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

Agnes is nervous as this year’s draft draws near.

“We were sure about Kwity,” she said. “For Komotay, I’m just a little nervous and pray someone will give him a chance because he’s a fighter.”

At 15, he moved to live with a family friend in 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 senior season.

He played junior college ball at the North Dakota College of Sciences for a year and received the coveted Division I scholarship to New Mexico State University.

He moved to northern Colorado for his final season to play for head coach Ed McCaffrey and assistant coach Jimmy Spencer, who had a combined 25 years of NFL playing experience.

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

“My brother went straight into the NFL and my path has been up and down,” said Koffie, who played safety, cornerback, nickelback and inside linebacker, a versatility he hopes makes him an attractive prospect does for someone.

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

Here’s the amazing part: Despite their two-year age difference and their different paths, the brothers never played soccer together.

“We were never on the same field either. We practiced at different times,” Koffie said. “So my brother has never seen me play.”

This could change soon.

“I just spoke to him last night,” Koffie said. “I thought, ‘How crazy would it be to warm up on the same field?’ I’m telling you, it would probably be a very emotional moment to look across the lawn and see each other.’”

Fulfilling a dream and a promise together.

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