When Kwame Osei gathers up his receivers on the football field, his presence is compelling. When he talks, they listen. His ability to lead coupled with his football acumen may present the image that, for him, becoming a coach was a given.
But it wasn’t. He’s had a long hill to climb before he became a coach for men’s and women’s football.
A native to the Rexdale neighbourhood in Toronto, Osei fell in love with football at the age of eight after having been exposed to it by his older cousin. After watching a few games on TV, he was hooked. His mom, on the other hand, was less enthused and told him the sport was too dangerous. But Osei’s passion persisted.
He began watching football every weekend. Idolizing players like Jerry Rice, when he saw a catch he particularly liked, he’d run to his room to re-enact it.
“I used to have a little ball,” he said. “It was a Thomas the Tank Engine ball, and I would throw the ball against the wall and I’d do some type of acrobatic catch, whatever I saw on TV I’d just copy it, diving left, right, and centre doing some crazy stuff.”
His mom still wouldn’t budge, so the young Osei got more creative.
“I would run around my house with this little stuffed football, and I’d put all these scrunched up clothes in my shoulders and it would look like shoulder pads, and I’d just run around like I’m doing drills,” he said, pausing to laugh.
“Then I would call my friends and tell them I just came back from practice. And you know what, nobody believed me but in my head, I did just come back from practice.”
It wasn’t until high school when Osei got to play his first game. While he was a fine enough player, at the end of his four years he figured he was done with the sport. After graduation, he took some time to re-orient himself.
“I just didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I had no sense of identity. I had no plan.”
After being persuaded by some of his friends, Osei made the decision to go to Vanier College to play football and get his grades up in the hopes of making it to university. His bet paid off, and he was recruited by St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX) in his second year at college—a place Osei didn’t think he would be when he was in high school.
His transition, however, was difficult. Being his first experience in a small town that lacked significant representation of people of colour, he felt like he didn’t fit in and at the end of his first year, he was on the verge of being expelled.
“I put up a shell, and I was struggling to express myself, struggling to communicate and struggling to fit in—and you should never try to fit in, you should just be yourself, but at that moment, I just felt like I didn’t belong.”
The Dean, who later became close friends with Osei, was eventually persuaded to not expel him. But this event, along with the death of one of his cousins and nearly losing an arm in a separate incident, jolted Osei to rethink his trajectory.
“I was involved in a lot of negative things, and those things put me in life-threatening situations—things you see on the evening news all the time,” he said. “Then one of my cousins died at the age of 28. I had always aspired to be like him, but when he died, I realized that I was aspiring to not really do much with my life.”
All these things compounded into a moment of clarity, where Osei decided he was going to right his path.
“One day I just looked myself in the mirror and I was like ‘what are you doing with yourself?’”
“Having everything almost taken away from me made me realize what I really had in my hand. And ever since then I just held it on even tighter, and just kept maximizing the opportunities that were presented to me.”
One opportunity Osei had been given was public speaking.
For his first engagement, which his coach, Terry Chisholm, recommended him for, Osei and several other Black students on the St. FX football team were invited to an elementary school just outside of Antigonish, Nova Scotia to share their stories. The school was predominantly white, with only four Black students, and the principal hoped this assembly would make those students feel better recognized.
“I remember it like yesterday,” Osei said. He had the undivided attention of the whole school, but he was focused on the four kids as he spoke.
“I saw the way they were staring at me, and they were looking at me like I was speaking life into them. I felt like I could feel their vibrations rise, and I could feel the confidence in them rising.”
Years later, Osei is still in contact with the four kids, who have told him repeatedly his words made an impact.
“I’m a strong believer that the tongue has the power of life and death—what we say can either bring somebody down or it can bring them up. So, I purposely chose to use the latter.”
After finishing his time at St. FX, where he ended up as the football team’s captain, he earned two degrees and was the receiving coach following his graduation. Osei then headed west to Fort McMurray, Alberta, where he used his gifts in football and speech to make a difference in the lives of youth as a high school coach and founder of the Northern Elite Football organization and mentorship program.
Osei’s mandate while coaching there was to give kids who likely would’ve never played football a chance at post-secondary opportunities. Two of the kids he coached are currently playing in the NCAA.
For Osei, who joined Queen’s in the summer of 2019, his mandate from Fort McMurray translated perfectly when Head Coach Snyder presented him with the women’s football coaching opportunity.
“I felt in my heart that for me to have made it to the point that I’m at and for the influence that football had on me, it would be disrespectful for me not to give back to the game any chance I get,” he said.
“I also thought back to a couple of the girls that were on my teams in the past, and I remember the difference in them from the time when they started playing football. I remember the confidence they had, I remember the way they just carried themselves was different.”
Although he’s yet to coach a game for the women’s team, Osei has big aspirations. Eventually, he wants women’s football to become a varsity team with a league in the OUA. In the meantime, he just wants to win and form bonds with his new team.
“I want to win, but it’s more than that. I want to create lasting experiences with these players and coaches.”
The new head coach reflected on his love of football and why he wants to share it with anyone who’s willing to play.
“I may be biased, but I think football is the ultimate team sport. It’s such a welcoming sport, it’s an inclusive sport—it doesn’t matter what size you are, how tall you are, there is a position for you in football.”
“Any females or anybody at Queen’s University that wants to join the team, you’re more than welcome. Know that you don’t have to have any athletic history, just come and we’ll find a spot for you.”
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