UNC defensive back Komotay Koffie, born in Sierra Leone refugee camp and escaped from civil war, is nearing NFL dream – The Denver Post

UNC defensive back Komotay Koffie, born in Sierra Leone refugee camp and escaped from civil war, is nearing NFL dream – The Denver Post

GREELEY — He was born in a Sierra Leone refugee camp and escaped civil war as a child. The next step on his improbable life journey might be the NFL.

On a blustery March afternoon, inside the University of Northern Colorado’s football practice facility, Komotay Koffie just finished his Pro Day workout. The 6-foot-1,198-pound defensive back churned out 20 reps on the bench press — more than any cornerback invited to the NFL Combine — to solidify his case as a Day 3 draft selection or priority free agent signing.

“I’ve always chased my dreams and will do everything in my power to get there,” said Koffie, a fifth-year graduate transfer who left New Mexico State for one season at UNC. “A determination to never stop.”

It all began with a family promise.

Koffie recalls the exact conversation: Swear, that it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re going to take care of our mother.

Koffie and his younger brother, Kwity Paye, were toddlers in the early 2000s when they fled their war-torn country with their mom, Agnes, for a new start. They were nearly separated.

“Komotay was a very happy child and friendly. But he was not born during a good time. He was born during a war,” Agnes said. “Komotay and Kwity were not on the affidavit of support (immigration form) coming here. But as luck would have it, the person doing the interview with us added their names. I’m so grateful.”

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The family settled in Providence, Rhode Island, and the boys fell in love with football. Paye grew into a powerful 6-foot-4 frame in high school, signed to play defensive end at the University of Michigan, and became a 2021 first-round draft pick (No. 21) with the Indianapolis Colts. He called it from the start.

Paye made this 2017 prediction about his mother to local Rhode Island media: One day she’ll never have to lift a finger again.

“I still have to hold up my end of the promise,” Koffie said.

However, unlike his high-profile NFL brother, it’s been a difficult uphill football climb.

Koffie left home at about 15 years old — moving from Rhode Island to Tennessee — for greater recruiting exposure at Knoxville Central High School. Koffie played three seasons and then transferred to Milford Academy (New York) for his senior year.

Yet colleges mostly overlooked the ferocious but undersized defender.

“When people speak about my journey, Komotay had to be stronger than I am,” said Paye, who recorded four sacks with the Colts last season, in a phone interview with The Denver Post. “Most people would give up on their dreams and fold. Komotay was determined. He knew he could do it. He just needed the opportunity.”

Koffie went on to play one season of junior college football at North Dakota State College of Science. He posted 42 tackles and nine pass breakups as a shutdown defender. It earned him a long-awaited Division I scholarship at New Mexico State.

“Anytime a door shut in my face, I always found a new one that opened,” Koffie said. “I never knew where my journey was taking me. I just went with the flow. … That’s something I tell my mom when we talk about it. We sit back and laugh. I’m not even going to lie. I had no blueprint.

“I knew I had a goal at the end of the day. That was the NFL.”

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A desire to join his brother at the next level ultimately brought Koffie to UNC. He entered the transfer portal after three seasons at New Mexico State. The main criteria for his new team? A staff with NFL experience.

UNC head coach Ed McCaffrey spent 13 seasons playing wide receiver between the Giants, 49ers and Broncos. Bears volunteer secondary coach Jimmy Spencer is a 12-year NFL veteran with stops in New Orleans, Cincinnati, San Diego and Denver. It was a perfect fit.

Koffie settled in to become a lockdown FCS cornerback. He made a career-high 11 tackles against Eastern Washington. Koffie’s strength — once considered a weakness of his game — became his greatest asset.

“Physically, he’s very gifted,” McCaffrey said. “He’s incredibly strong and can press guys at the line of scrimmage. Smart and hardworking. Good feet and can flip his hips. He was an incredible player and leader for us this (past) season.”

Paye added: “I’ve seen Komotay go from a very scrawny high school kid to what he is now. … He really came a long way.”

NFL scouts from the Broncos, Browns, Jaguars and Saints were all in attendance at UNC Pro Day. Koffie is open to playing any position at the next level. All he wants is another chance to make his mother proud.

“My mom is my rock. She’s everything,” Koffie said. “Throughout this journey, it did have a lot of dark times. This process can be very difficult and stressful. … She definitely keeps me balanced. She tells me to never get too high or too low. Be in the present and be right now. Don’t make the moment bigger than what it is.”

Agnes has no problem bragging about her boys. Kwity and Komotay have already kept their promise.

“I’m proud and happy because growing up, it was just the three of us,” Agnes said. “I grew up in the war. I was so scared for my kids that we would have to separate. As a young child, too, I was separated from my parents during the war. … For that reason, me and my kids stayed very close together. I teach them that we have to learn to support each other and be there for each other. Us three are all we have.

“That’s why they’re so connected.”

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