Photo by: Darryl Dyck / CFL Canadian Press Images
By: Brandon Maki
Going into his fifth Canadian Football League season, it’s hard to imagine Kwaku Boateng as a man with a chip on his shoulder.
Still, even after a career that has seen him rack up numerous accolades with the Edmonton Elks, including 25 sacks, the newly-minted Ottawa REDBLACKS pass rusher still feels like he has plenty to prove with his new team.
“I said (when I was drafted) that I was going to make sure that everyone that doubted me realizes that they made a big mistake,” Boateng said. “I think I’ve done that in the past four or five years.”
“So now, it really does come down to trying to stack up rings. Trying to stack up a legacy.”
A legacy is something that Boateng is already well on his way to earning. When the Ghanaian-born defender, who grew up in Milton, Ontario, graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2017, he did so as the program’s all-time leader in sacks, and a Yates Cup winner. Originally starting at the top of CFL draft boards, a tough outing at the combine saw Boateng fall to Edmonton, at the 41st overall pick.
“That definitely pissed me off,” he said.
Boateng wasted no time making the rest of the CFL feel his fury, recording four sacks, 22 total tackles, and a forced fumble, en route to a West Final appearance in his rookie season. After four productive seasons — with one lost to a pandemic in between — Boateng felt the pull to be closer to home.
When new REDBLACKS general manager Shawn Burke came calling in free agency, the soon-to-be 27-year-old described the decision to come to Ottawa as a “no-brainer”.
Photo by: Amber Bracken / CFL Canadian Press Images
The REDBLACKS offer something of a ready-made fit for Boateng. Along with being near-throwing distance from his home in the GTA, he sings the praises of defensive coordinator Mike Benevides, under whom he played in Edmonton for the first two seasons of his career, and enjoyed his highest levels of production.
But while the notion of familiarity is important to Boateng, so too is the idea of turning the page. He acknowledges that the REDBLACKS and Elks weren’t all the different in 2021, finishing as the bottom two teams in the CFL. Under Burke, however, an aggressive approach to free agency has seen Ottawa land star-calibre talent in the likes of Jeremiah Masoli, Darvin Adams, and Boateng’s former teammate Monshadrik “Money” Hunter, among others. The evident commitment to winning caught the eye of the star edge rusher, who is still chasing his first Grey Cup championship.
“I think that ‘Burkey’ has done a good job, offensively and defensively, to fill certain gaps, but also to leave enough room for newcomers to come in and shine,” he said. “I think at this point, we have all the tools in place. We’ve just got to mesh, and then we should be able to ball.”
“We’ve got daredevils on our defence. We’re going to be fast and furious.”
More than one of the “daredevils” among the REDBLACKS defensive unit can be found in Boateng’s new positional group. CFL veterans Davon Coleman, and Cleyon Laing terrorized opposing backfields last season, with newcomers Praise Martin-Oguike, and Kene Onyeka also earning recognition for their play down the stretch.
With the level of talent already in place on the defensive line, Boateng knows that coming from Edmonton, where he was a part of units consistently at the top of CFL sack totals, he can help this REDBLACKS group to take the next step.
Photo by: Walter Tychnowicz / CFL Canadian Press Images
Boateng embodies the mentality that goes into being a pass rusher. It’s an art form, coupled with a relentless, strategic approach that he credits to former teammate Almondo Sewell, who emphasized the correlation between production, and pay checks. While in Edmonton, Boateng began writing “SFR” on his wrist tape before every game: an acronym for “Sacks for Racks”.
“It’s not like college where you’re working hard just for exposure. You’re working hard to pay the bills.”
Boateng took the mantra to heart. With the 2020 CFL season lost to the pandemic, and feeling a desire to pay his success forward after a big contract extension, he turned Sacks for Racks into a brand. He spends his offseason travelling across Canada, putting on pass rush clinics for young football players in the 12-19 age group, and filling a major gap in Canadian football development.
“It’s hard to prevail in this league as a Canadian pass rusher, let alone a Canadian player in general,” Boateng said. “So the next steps for this is just basically to run more camps across Canada, because in the States, kids are doing that at the age of five.”
The impact is not just felt on a football level, though. Boateng donates the proceeds from the camp to charity, including a recent $1,000 donation to the Burlington Food Bank.
“We’re out here trying to get sacks for racks, but, more importantly, you’re giving back to the community in your own respective ways. I felt like that was the best way for me to walk the walk.”
Though production, and an impact on his community are important, Boateng wants RNation to know that his eyes are firmly on the prize with the REDBLACKS.
“I’m here to win, and I’m here to leave a legacy of greatness. I think that we have the coaches, staff, and players to do so. I just want to be part of that progress and be part of that movement.”
Those who doubt him should know, by now, to do so at their peril.