Arhen's actualization

Senior wide receiver goes from mentee to mentor

Arhen leads the way for the Gaels.
Credit: 
Robin Kasem

The Ben Arhen who arrived at football training camp in 2016 isn’t very different from the Ben Arhen you see today, making highlight catches at every stadium across the province. He’s got the same speed, the same vibrant personality, and the same drive.

If there’s any difference now (other than his weight), it’s that he knows what everyone else knew in 2016: he’s special.

And if you want to understand what makes him so special, you have to start in Ghana.

Arhen’s parents were wealthy and well-known in their home country, but they made the difficult decision to emigrate from Ghana to Canada for their children’s futures.

“A lot of people said, ‘That’s stupid, why are you giving up all this money to go to Canada when you’ve already made it in Ghana?’” Arhen explained in an interview with The Journal.

“My parents had to start from the bottom again … My dad gave up a lot because he knew that to give his progeny a better chance, there was nothing negative about Ghana, but we were going to have to be put in a better education system.” 

These sacrifices weren’t lost on Arhen.

“When we came here at first it was a struggle, we grew up in an apartment, I have five brothers, most of us had to share rooms. I remember all those times and how much my dad went through, my mom had to work, I had to work to help out. I just use all that as fuel.”

Arhen’s dad’s business is doing well these days, and the family is as close as ever.  

As a rookie, Arhen, immediately and naturally fell under the wing of star receiver Chris Osei-Kusi. They had previously played together in their mutual hometown of Brampton, and the connection strengthened at Queen’s. 

“Chris was actually one of the first people I met when I started playing Brampton Bulldogs,” said Arhen. “When I had the opportunity to come play at Queen’s, I stayed with Chris. He showed me around … I saw the impact he had at Queen’s, he was just a great player.”

Arhen witnessed the challenges that come with being a leader on a U SPORTS football team, and he took pains to learn how to manage them. 

“I knew it was going to take some time, I wasn’t just going to come to Queen’s and blow up. I still had a lot of work to do, and I think Chris, him being such a good friend of mine, like an older brother to me, he showed me how to live under the spotlight and not get too carried away by it.”

This summer, Osei-Kusi left Queen’s for Windsor to pursue a law degree, which meant it was Arhen’s turn to assume the mantle of go-to receiver on a young Gaels team.

“When this year started, I was the only veteran [in the receiver corps] coming in, the only starter coming in, a lot of the guys were young so I had to take on a leadership role and not just positively affect the team athletically, but also leadership-wise, mentally.”

But learning how to be a leader is experiential. You can’t know how to lead a team just by watching.

Queen’s new Head Coach Steve Snyder didn’t like the number of mistakes Arhen was making on the field, and so he benched him for the majority of Queen’s win over Windsor last weekend.

“Coach Snyder, great coach, one of the best coaches I’ve ever had, he’s all about lead by example, and if you're not doing that, the next guy’s up. He doesn’t care about how good you are.”

“I think along the way I got a little too comfortable, I threw a lot of technique out the door on gameday and … made a lot of mistakes that a veteran receiver shouldn’t be making … I wasn’t setting a good example for the rookies that were looking up to me.”

Snyder decided he needed to spark something in Arhen. “I haven’t been benched since 2017, I’ve always played. And it worked. I went into the game with four minutes left and we needed a first down to seal the game and I caught a 38-yard pass on second and eight.”

Arhen handled the situation gracefully, encouraging his teammates and paying special attention to his protégé Sebastian Hanson’s routes and blocking. 

“Energy is transferable. I don’t like to bring other people down. I was having a very hard time that week … but I knew that having that energy, having that attitude on the sideline was not going to help anybody in any shape or form. Having that positive energy can go a long way.”

Arhen, called Ben formally and Benji casually, is a busy guy these days. He’s got a full course load as a biology major, a varsity football team to lead, a part-time job, and he’s on the executive board for the Queen’s Black Premedical Association. 

“A lot of my friends ask me how I do it,” Ahren said laughingly. The drive he inherited from his parents plays a large role, but actualizing his full potential also fuels his ambition. Arhen has designs that go beyond football.

“The average player doesn’t last that long playing football, so I wanted to divert some of my attention somewhere else. Being a black student coming to Queen’s University, there’s a lot of stigma around the lack of diversity at Queen’s, and I had never branched out from football.”

Arhen started going to meetings for the Queen’s Black Academic Society.

“It was nice to have that tight-knit community that you can relate to, and that’s where I met some of the members of the Queen’s Black Premedical Association.”

Arhen wants to do his master’s at Queen’s and use up his last two years of football eligibility. Down the road, he plans on going to medical school.

“Coming to Queen’s, I tell my parents this all the time, is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. There was a lot of potential there, and Queen’s opened it all up. I’m blossoming. I’m glad that I’m here.”

“I feel like I’m on my way. I’m headed in the right direction, and I’m making my parents proud.”

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