For years, Kene and Godfrey Onyeka and their football-playing cousins have pushed each other to be better.
It’s a healthy competition in a journey that took Kene to Ottawa’s Carleton University and Godfrey to Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University — where each found excellence. In the winter Canadian Football League’s Scouting Bureau rankings, Godfrey, a defensive back, was ranked sixth; Kene, a defensive lineman, was ranked 14th.
Both participated in the CFL Combine Saturday and Sunday, looking to show coaches and scouts from the league’s nine teams what they can do. Maybe they didn’t do as well as they would have liked, maybe the numbers weren’t what they were looking for, but that’s just motivation to work harder.
“I think there’s always a rivalry between us,” said Kene. “That’s how we got to the level we did, it’s the competition.
“It’s a huge honour to be ranked, but we’re not No. 1 and No. 2 so we push each other to get better. It is who we are by nature, we’re just competitive people. If you’re going to want to do something, if you’re passionate about it, you might as well push to be the best.
“It started when we were kids, it’s the way our parents raised us. Nakas (a linebacker with the Toronto Argos) and Kosi (a linebacker with the University of Guelph Gryphons), they’re cousins. We’re always together, we’re always competing — nobody wants to be the worst one, everybody’s pushing to be the best.”
When they were younger, the cousins would play in Kene’s uncle’s backyard — no pads, almost full contact. They learned how to get physical, something that’s never been lost.
Kene and Godfrey were born in Nigeria — when they moved to Canada, Godfrey was 11, Kene was nine.
“There was no language barrier,” said Kene. “The only thing that was hard to get used to, and it was annoying, was nobody knew how to pronounce my name. The word Kene, I’ve heard it pronounced 20 different ways.”
While they live in Brampton with their mom Jane, their dad Godfrey Sr. splits his time between Nigeria and Canada.
“(My dad) thinks football is a crazy man’s sport,” said Kene. “Even the way my grandma talks about it — ‘All it is is people knocking people out.’ That’s what football looks like when you don’t understand it.
“I wouldn’t say my mom’s a football fan. She supports us in what we do. But she’s one of those moms where you say, ‘Mom, I’m an all-star’ and she says, ‘That’s really good, I’m happy for you … but how are your grades?’ “
Jane’s attitude has rubbed off on her children.
“When you’re a kid, you don’t really understand it because you just want to have fun,” said Kene. “But it makes a lot of sense now. Live in the now, but plan for the long term.”