Monday, September 10, 2007

Fighting for a better life

When you’ve grown up during a civil war and had to come to a new country for a fresh start, trying to elude a defender on the football field is the least of your concerns.

So it should come as no surprise that Kelvin Clippers running back Abdul Sesay has found solace on the gridiron after leaving his home in Botown, Sierra Leone at the tender age of 11 to come to Canada as a refugee in 2002.

The unrest in Sierra Leone lasted 12 years and though Sesay left the country in the year the civil war officially came to an end, it was not an easy place to grow up.

“There was a lot of running around most of the time because people panic,” said Sesay, whose mother remains in Sierra Leone. “Here it’s a much better life and there are more opportunities for me.”

The shocking thing is that Sesay, a Grade 12 student, is beginning his third football season — and all of that first year was spent trying to learn the terminology.

Sesay, who works a job at the Olive Garden to help pay the rent for the apartment his younger sister and he live in, didn’t exactly find football the traditional way either.

No clue

“When I came here, I had no clue about football,” said Sesay, who rushed for 801 yards last season in just six games before an injury derailed his season. “But I started playing (John) Madden football on the computer in 2002.”

Being good with your thumbs is one thing, but learning a playbook can be quite another.

“In the beginning, there are so many plays that you need to know and I didn’t understand any of that stuff,” said Sesay. “The coaches kept telling me to keep trying.”

And now, Sesay’s persistence is paying off.

Sesay is excited about the upcoming season and is committed to working hard on the field and in the classroom, since he’s hoping to land a scholarship and try to continue his football career.

“We’re going to win more games this year. We have a better team and we have more talent,” said Sesay, whose older sister Zainab came to Winnipeg before he and his two other siblings joined them.

“Some day I want to be a pro football player. It would be a dream come true.”

Clippers head coach Jon Romu has been impressed with how quickly Sesay has come to understand the intricacies of the game.

“He’s a tremendous athlete and a hard worker with a lot of skill,” said Romu. “He asks smart questions and things like that. He wants to be a student of the game and he wants to play. With his ability and athleticism, he does things on the football field that you really can’t teach, as far as cutting goes and his vision. It’s unbelievable.

“He’s very mature and he’s becoming a leader. He’s not really much of a talker, he lets his actions but when he does speak, the guys listen because they know it’s coming from the heart.”

Although Romu doesn’t want to put unrealistic expectations on Sesay, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the starting tailback eclipsed 1,000 yards this season.

“For him, the sky is the limit, as long as he stays healthy,” said Romu, noting Sesay rushed for more than 100 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of a recent exhibition game. “He’s a special kid.”

winnipegsun.com - Ken Wiebe - Fighting for a better life