It is well known that there is less than a 1% chance of high school senior football players making it to the NFL.
The odds are incredibly stacked against them. Whether it be injuries, playing circumstances, or personal choices, all things must line up for the player to get his shot at the pros.
Now imagine having to start your journey on a completely different continent and just trying to stay alive, in one of the most dangerous places in the entire world.
This is the beginning of Rookie Files, a series on Horseshoe Huddle that takes a look into the backstories of the Indianapolis Colts’ first-year players as we get to know them on and off the field.
It’s only fitting that we kick off this series with the young man who may have the most incredible backstory of them all: Colts’ first-round pick Kwity Paye.
Fleeing to Survive
Paye’s story starts back on November 19, 1998, where he was born in a refugee camp in Guinea. His mother, Agnes, had taken refuge there after fleeing her home country of Liberia during the First Liberian Civil War.
The First Liberian Civil War spanned over 7 years and killed almost 250,000 people. A land filled with war, death, and turmoil forced Agnes to run for her life as her tribe was being attacked by rebel soldiers. Her father was murdered in the attacks and Agnes was forced to flee her village.
She first took refuge in Sierra Leone when she was only 12 years old. After living there for some time, she once again had to flee from the war-ravaged area to Guinea.
Agnes gave birth to Kwity in 1998, and with already having one other son named Komotay, she decided that she could not risk keeping her children in this dangerous part of the world any longer. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, and a little money given to her by her cousin Cyrus while together in Sierra Leone, Agnes took her young boys to America.
The Chance at a Better Life
Agnes and her two boys immigrated to the United States when Paye was only six months old. They settled in Providence, Rhode Island in the Lockwood Projects. While they were finally out of Africa, conditions were not much better in their new home.
The area was filled with gang-related activity, as shootings would ring out through the night. It was not the ideal situation to raise two young boys, but it was all Agnes could afford at the time.
Agnes was not educated, as she did not know how to read or write. She would drop the boys off at school and then attend school herself while also working multiple jobs. She sacrificed heavily to make sure her children were taken care of as she tried to give them the best life that she could.
As the boys got older, they became more and more interested in the game of football. Agnes did not approve at first, as she saw the game as violent and did not want her sons getting hurt. She eventually came around to see it as a way for her boys to enjoy themselves while also staying in a safe environment, and thus football was allowed.
Paye was much bigger than many of the kids his age. When signing up to play Junior Pee Wee football, they asked him to provide a birth certificate to verify his age. Being born in the refugee camp in Guinea, Paye was without a birth certificate and had to use his green card as a way to prove his age.
Once he was finally allowed to play, Paye began to fall in love with the game. He became a star in his Pee Wee league games and it became his escape from everything that was going on around him. As he approached his high school years, Paye was taking the game of football very seriously.
A Promise Delivered
A major influence on Paye was former NFL player Will Blackmon. Blackmon was the only player at the time to make it out of Providence and play professionally. When Paye was 12 years old, Blackmon spoke with him and told him to keep working on his craft, and one day, he’d be able to take care of his family.
This struck an accord with Paye. He had seen all of the sacrifices that his mother had made to give him and his brother the best life that she could. He has always wanted to pay it back and ensure he could take care of her how she cared for him.
Will Blackmon went to high school at Bishop Hendricken in Warwick, Rhode Island. Known as a football powerhouse, Paye felt this was his best opportunity to make an impact and possibly play football at the collegiate level. There was just one problem: money.
Tuition at Hendricken is incredibly expensive. With Agnes making only $14 per hour, she was not sure how she could afford to send her son there on top of paying for rent and supporting her other children. Paye begged his mother to send him to one of the most prestigious schools in the Northeast.
Paye made Agnes a promise. He told her that he would try his absolute best in everything that he did, from the classroom to the football field. He promised her a scholarship in return if he could go to his dream high school.
“If you send me to Hendricken, I’ll go to college for free,” Paye remembers promising his mother.
After Agnes finally agreed to send him to Hendricken, Paye immediately began working towards fulfilling that promise. He was in all honors and accelerated courses. He had a phenomenal GPA and was an honor student in every way possible.
Paye also took care of business on the football field. He became a star running back and defensive end at Hendricken. Some of the accolades that were awarded to him include Gatorade Player of the Year in 2016, Defensive Lineman of the Year, 4-time state champion, state championship MVP, and Under Armor All-American.
After his senior year, Paye was able to make due on his promise to Agnes. On February 1, 2017, Paye signed to play at the University of Michigan on a full football scholarship. This was a scholarship they earned together.
Agnes had to work three jobs to send Paye to Hendricken. She missed many of his games because she had to work. The sacrifices that she made, and the hard work put in by Paye lead to his scholarship.
Achieving a Dream
Paye stepped onto campus at Michigan and continued the hard work and dedication that he displayed in high school. He was determined to make the most of his opportunity and give it his all on the field. His brother Komotay remembers it vividly.
“I remember he told me on the phone ‘Big bro, watch,” Komotay recalls. “As soon as I get on that field, nobody’s safe.”
Paye saw the field in nine games as a true freshman for the Wolverines and entered the starting lineup as a sophomore. From there, no one was going to stand in his way from being a game-wrecker in the Big Ten. As a junior, Paye tallied 6.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 50 total tackles on his way to Second Team All-Big Ten.
He also continued his dominance in the classroom, boasting a 3.97 GPA and graduating with honors from the University of Michigan. He took his education just as seriously as he did his play on the gridiron, and excelled in both areas.
Playing in the NFL was not something that Paye envisioned could happen for him. It was always a dream of his, but the main focus was getting an education and being able to support his mother. He was finally going to have the chance to do that in the biggest way possible.
After his senior year, Paye had established himself as one of the best edge rushers in the country. He entered the NFL draft and was selected by the Colts with the 21st pick. While celebrating with his family and watching the draft at home, the first person he turned to after getting off the phone with the Colts was Agnes.
“She’s done working,” Paye said joyfully after being asked what was next for his mother. “She’s retired.”
How Paye Helps the Colts
It’s no secret the Colts needed to upgrade their pass rush as the offseason began. Paye figures to play a vital role in doing just that.
Paye is an explosive defensive end with a relentless motor. Many times, he finds himself having an impact in plays he normally shouldn’t because of his effort. This will fit right in with defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’s scheme.
The scheme the Colts run should also help to elevate Paye’s production. At Michigan, Paye was asked to read and react to what the offense was doing. With the Colts his task will be much simpler, as Paye will be put on the edge and asked to pin his ears back and attack the quarterback.
Paye shows good bend for an edge rusher and is powerful at the point of attack. This allows him to not only be an effective edge rusher but a player who will also have success against the run.
The Colts have big plans for Paye. He has already been introduced to Colts’ legends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and hopes to be the next great edge rusher for the team. Paye has the potential to be a starter from Day 1 and a Pro Bowler for years to come.
Paye was named after his maternal grandfather, who was killed in the war in Liberia. His name Kwity means “civilization,” which seems very fitting for the man who has now set himself up to take care of his entire family and possibly the Colts’ organization for years to come.
Have thoughts on Kwity Paye's backstory and the debut of the series Rookie Files? Drop a line in the comments section below!
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