For any rookie pro athlete, part of the learning curve is the acceptance that not all of one’s learning can come at once.
That reality isn’t lost on Kwaku Boateng.
While showing moments of promise both against the run and on the pass rush, the Eskimos’ defensive end admits he’s yet to piece both parts of his game together.
But he doesn’t see that as cause for alarm.
“I’ve got time to grow,” the 22-year-old Miltonian told the Champion Saturday afternoon, following Friday’s 23-21 nail-biter over the visiting Ottawa Redblacks, which kept Edmonton undefeated at 3-0.
A watershed moment in the former Laurier Golden Hawks star’s early CFL development — at least from a mental standpoint — came in his second practice, when things weren’t exactly going well.
“I felt in the sewer… or the gutter. Things weren’t going my way and I had my head down the whole time. Afterwards, coach Casey (Creehan) came up and said ‘Boateng, I’m going to coach you hard because you’ve got potential. You have to decide if this is for you or not’,” recalled the Eskimos’ 6-foot-2, 250-pound fifth-round draft pick, a former OUA Lineman of the Year and two-time All-Canadian Second Team All-Star. “He put it all on the table. I needed that.”
Serving as a freshman back-up in an otherwise veteran defensive end tandem, Boateng has enjoyed playing time in all three games to date.
Seeing an average of 15 to 20 snaps so far, his early-season efforts culminated with the first four official tackles of his pro career against the Redblacks Friday.
“Yeah, I’d say it was a step forward,” said the Bishop Reding Secondary School graduate, who started off as a receiver but switched over to defence in Grade 10 — following a Royals coaching change — and quickly embraced his new role. “With each game I’m less nervous out there. In pre-season I was so worried about messing up. I’m progressing. I think I’ve done all I could (to this point).”
Known for his agility and work ethic, Boateng says he’s learned a lot already from seasoned defensive end teammates Phillip Hunt, Marcus Howard and Odell Willis — and is trying to analyze everything he can and be like a sponge of information.
Laurier’s Yates Cup (OUA) championship run last fall, he said, definitely helped prepare him for the high-stakes pressure of pro football.
“Those were all or nothing games, which was great because this (CFL) is a what have you done for me lately situation. Every game you’re putting your resumé up… your job security up. You should look at each game as possibly your last.”
Rallying from a 9-0 deficit against Ottawa to remain unbeaten, the Eskimos enjoyed a CFL season attendance record of 36,260 Friday — which marked their second straight home victory.
“We have the best fans. Football’s a big deal in Edmonton and any time we have an opportunity to protect our house, we take that very seriously,” said Boateng.
This Thursday marks a homecoming of sorts for the rookie d-lineman, who’ll no doubt have a sizable cheering section when his Eskimos visit Tim Hortons Field to face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Boateng figures he’ll have added incentive for this week’s game, but not just because of the family and friends in the stands.
“They (Ti-Cats) picked another defensive end over me. That’s my motivation. That’s what drives me.”