There are two reasons why May 7, 2017, was a day Kaetochuku (Kay) Okafor will never forget.
The 24-year-old from Nigeria walked across the stage to get his business administration degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., and later in the day he was drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
“It’s the biggest day of my life so far to be honest,” said Okafor.
“To graduate from university and get drafted was amazing. And to have my dad here for it was the best part of everything.”
From Nigeria to Antigonish to Hamilton
Okafor left his home in Enugu, Nigeria, six years ago at the age of 18.
He left behind his mother, father, three sisters and a brother. Spotting his father in the crowd at graduation was the first time Okafor had seen a member of his immediate family since 2011.
“I actually didn’t know if he was going to make it because his flight got cancelled the day before, so we had to get him on a flight to Fredericton instead of Halifax on the morning of my graduation,” said Okafor.
“My cousin actually drove to pick him up and I actually saw him just before I walked across the stage. I saw him taking a picture, it was great.”
Okafor decided to come to Canada at the urging of his cousin, who went to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
Cut from basketball team
Okafor’s first stop was at Holland College in Charlottetown where he was one of the first cuts from the basketball team. But it wasn’t long before he was coaxed onto the football field to try a sport that was completely foreign to him.
“I had never seen a sport where you had to wear a helmet and pads — it was very different,” said Okafor.
“I had to wrap my head around the game. It’s been a bit of a journey for sure.”
That journey led Okafor to his next stop in Antigonish where he suited up for the St. FX football team. Fast forward four years to today and the six-foot-four, 278-pound defensive lineman said he’s ready to crack the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lineup.
“Playing at St. FX, I had to step my game up, mostly mentally. I had to learn the concepts of the game and learn my position more,” he said.
Okafor turned a lot of heads at the CFL combine this spring. That’s where pro prospects are put through a series of strength and conditioning tests. Okafor bench-pressed 225 pounds 30 times.
But there’s more to Okafor than brute strength.
“He was the captain of our football team and he mentored a lot of young players on our team,” said Gary Waterman, head coach of the St. FX football team.
“That aspect was so important. Even though his physical play for us was great, the other elements he brought to the table was just as great for our program.”
Okafor will be leaving for Hamilton’s training camp next week.
He’s already planning a return trip to Nigeria following the CFL season in time for Christmas.