Kwaku Boateng didn’t start playing football until he was in Grade 9. He didn’t like the contact.
So the six-foot-two defensive end for the Laurier Golden Hawks sees the irony as he stops quarterbacks and running backs trying to sneak past the line of scrimmage.
“It’s kind of a funny thing,” said the soft-spoken Boateng after a team practice at University Stadium last Wednesday.
The irony is that Boateng does a lot of the hitting. The defensive lineman has a knack for finding and tackling anyone who tries to run by the Laurier defensive line. Plus, with a team-leading 4.5 sacks this season, he’s shown the speed and agility to get to the opposing team’s quarterback.
He eventually started playing football in high school and initially wanted to be a receiver. But advice from a coach at the time led him in the direction of defence.
This season is a big one, not only for Boateng, but for Laurier.
For Boateng, it’s a chance to showcase his skills before the CFL draft. He was recently listed at No. 2 on the CFL Central Scouting List and the top player in all CIS football to make the list. Laurier’s all-time leader in sacks with 18.5 knows that all CFL eyes are on him this season.
For the Golden Hawks, who improved to 5-1 on the season after a win over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues on Thursday, this is the best shot they’ve had at a Yates Cup in years. The last time they won was 2005.
While Boateng’s sights are set on playing professional football in the CFL, aside from a select few, most players in Canada’s oldest sports league need a backup plan.
That’s where Boateng’s smarts come in.
Working toward his Chartered Professional Accountant designation, Boateng knows what he’s going to do after football — whether that’s directly after his OUA career or after his playing time in the CFL is over.
Boateng’s smarts arent just based the program he’s in — he has the awards to prove it, too. He’s a two-time CIS Academic All-Canadian — once in 2014 and again in 2015.
He’s managed to do all this while playing in every single Golden Hawks game for the past three-plus seasons.
Boateng has seen first-hand the transformation of the Golden Hawks under head coach Michael Faulds. In his rookie season in 2013, he was a starter. It was a not-so-perfect combination of Boateng being good at what he does and the Golden Hawks completely reconstructing the football team.
In 2013, the Hawks went 1-7. In 2014, a slightly better result at 4-4. In 2015, they went 4-4 again. This season, they’re poised to go 7-1 based on the remaining schedule.
There have been growing pains, but Boateng’s been there all along, eying up quarterbacks and taking them down.
“He’s a special player. He’s one of our hardest workers. He’s been dedicated to getting better every year and he never takes practice off,” said Ron VanMoerkerke, who has been the defensive co-ordinator and/or defensive line coach for the entire duration of Boateng’s career.
Not slacking off has been part of Boateng’s focus this season as well. He heard the term “no plays off” from a teammate and ran with it. And it shows on the field.
“It’s about pushing through the pain and giving it everything,” said Boateng. “Sometimes it’s hard, especially when you get fatigued. But you just have to remind yourself of that.”
Boateng, a Milton native and Bishop Reding Catholic High School grad has a unique skill to turn “in a phone booth,” meaning he has an uncanny ability to stop, start and turn to get his 250-lb frame to where he needs to be, said VanMoerkerke. And he has the ability to learn and adapt quickly.
“Once you show him something and teach him something, he does get it right away,” said VanMoerkerke.
VanMoerkerke, who was involved in the decision to start Boateng as a rookie, said it was an easy one.
“The players that were in front of him were never going to be as good as he was,” said VanMoerkerke, adding that current stars such as Nakas Onyeka (LB), Brandon Calver (LB), Jalen Price (DL), and Taylor Calverley (LB) were part of that group the team wanted to see grow together.
“We made a commitment that we were going to go with the youth movement, hoping it would pay off in the end and it has,” said VanMoerkerke.
For VanMoerkerke, Boateng is the ideal athlete.
“It’s special as a football coach to have a kid who is committed to school and football … on the Thanksgiving Day weekend, you’re very thankful to be involved with an athlete like that.”
But it’s not just Boateng on the Laurier defence, which is now known as one of the best in the league.
While he patrols for enemies in the backfield, there are linemen and defensive backs working toward the same goal.
Laurier is currently in second place in the OUA with 15.3 points allowed per game. They are especially tough on the rush, allowing only a total of 105.2 rushing yards so far this season. Only the McMaster Marauders are better at 81.8 rushing yards per game.
Boateng admits it’s a little frustrating seeing the flashy positions — like quarterback and running back — getting all the “fame and fortune,” but now the Laurier defence is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
For VanMoerkerke, it’s nice to see the recognition, not only for the team and the program, but for the men on the gridiron.
“That makes me happy for the players. It allows us to stay in and win games.”
The Laurier Golden Hawks head back to University Stadium on Friday for the annual School Day game, hosting the Guelph Gryphons.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m.