Beyond The Sidelines: Kwame Osei

Kwame Osei – Receivers Coach, Queen’s University Football (U SPORTS)

By: Dashawn Stephens, PRSVRE

Football wasn’t always an option for Kwame Osei. The Toronto native first fell in love with the sport in the third grade as he would watch his older cousin play high school football at Father Henry Carr Secondary School, located in the Rexdale neighborhood of Toronto. Although he had a growing passion for the game, Osei’s parents refused to let him play as they feared for his safety. Nonetheless, he would still find a way to dedicate his time to the sport that was consuming his childhood imagination. Osei would spend his days creating his own practices as he’d stuff clothes into his shirts to imitate shoulder pads, and recite the acrobatic catches of Sterling Sharpe with a beach ball. I wasn’t obvious to Osei at the time, but those self-made practices were slowly breathing life into natural talents that were waiting to be unleashed.

Once Osei finally received the blessing of his parents to play football, the realities of his talents became clear. Playing wide receiver, Osei possessed a drive, passion, and finesse that launched him to success on the field. As he continued to grow within the sport, Osei knew he could use football as a tool to shape his future; and as a kid from Rexdale, that meant everything to him.

“Rexdale is like any type of urban environment where you have government housing, crime, and drugs. Young black males like myself were expected to go to jail, find low-paying jobs, or ultimately die. Football steered me away from that. It took me away from all of that. I was never involved. I’m always thankful for football, it changed my life”

Moving East

As football continued to shape Osei’s life, he would attend Vanier College in Montreal, Quebec after the twelfth grade before ultimately committing to play football at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Kinetics, Osei found the relocation to Nova Scotia to be quite the culture shock.

“Growing up in Toronto, everyone is used to confrontation. Believe it or not, I wasn’t use to everyone being respectful and kind. My first day of university was tough because I approached everything with a city mindset, an urban mindset, a Rexdale mindset”

Osei’s first year of university was challenging. As a rookie, he thrived on the field. However, off-the-field issues proved to put Osei’s football and academic career in jeopardy. After having an enlightening conversation with a family member, Osei was able to turn his life around and place all off-the-field issues behind him

“I went from being almost kicked out of school and despised by the Dean, to becoming one of the faces of StFX athletics for all of the right reasons, and becoming best friends with that same Dean”

Osei would go on to have a solid career with the X-Men that was highlighted by many individual accolades on the field as well as 3 straight Loney Bowl appearances. However, Osei takes pride in his achievements as an athlete off of the field. In 2010, Osei was the recipient of the StFX Athletics Community Excellence Award, as well as the AUS Student-Athlete and Community Service Award. These awards truly spoke volumes about how well Osei was able to turn his life around and become a symbol of excellence within the StFX community.

After the culmination of his collegiate career, Osei signed as a free agent with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

“Just to be able to walk into the Rogers Centre was phenomenal. Kids asking me for my autograph was amazing. I remember staring at my helmet for hours after I received it. Just to wear an Argos uniform was absolutely phenomenal”

After a brief – yet impressive – stint, the Argonauts decided to send Osei back to StFX to play out his senior year as they had reached their cap on Canadian roster spots.

 “The difference between professional football and university football is in professional football, everyone is athletic and talented. It’s all about attention to detail and staying in your playbook. If I could go back and change one thing, it would be being 100% dialed in. To any young athletes, give all your time and attention to your playbook and body. Prioritize your time”

Moving West

As he went back to school, Osei would pursue a Bachelor of Education. The path to becoming a teacher led Osei to his first teaching position as a physical education teacher at Holy Trinity High School in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Home to 66,500, Fort McMurray sits in the bedrock of Canada’s national petroleum industry. Faced with yet another culture shock, Osei once again turned to football to cope with the transition. In a town where youth normally grow up playing hockey, Osei helped introduce football to the community as he started coaching the Holy Trinity football team. In his first season, the community interest was low as very few students joined the team. However, as each year passed, Osei noticed an increase in the community interest. From there, he sought to equip his athletes with the tools necessary to obtain success on and off the field. In his 7 years coaching at Holy Trinity, asides from growing the football program, Osei guided dozens of young athletes towards earning football scholarships from schools such as Princeton, Yale, and the University of Miami.

 ”I was impacting lives, that was the biggest thing. I was impacting the lives of young men who probably never would have played football or thought about going to post-secondary institutions to play football. I was changing the narrative in that community”

Coaching Inspirations

Osei credits his coaching passions for beginning with Gary Waterman. Currently in his 11th season as the football Head Coach at StFX, Waterman is only 1 of 3 BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour) Head Coaches in U SPORTS football. As a BIPOC athlete, Osei was inspired by having a coach who defied the ethical norms.

 ”Seeing [Gary Waterman] as a Black head coach made me believe that I as a Black man, can one day be a head coach too”

Many aspects of Osei’s coaching style can be traced back to Waterman. As a coached who has always had an “open door” policy, Waterman always seized the opportunity to express his care for his athletes. Osei aims to do the same, as he takes pride in inspiring athletes to tap into their potentials as football players as well as human beings.

 “My goal is to help breed the next generation of model citizens and leaders. I’m not the best coach in terms of X’s and O’s, but what I am able to do is connect with the kids. I’m able to motivate. I’m able to inspire and get the kids to tap into their potential. For me, that’s bigger than the game. It’s about life. I love seeing the process of growth and evolution. Words can’t even describe how it feels how to help someone get to another level of thinking and ultimately another level of life”

After 7 great years in Fort McMurray, Osei moved back to Ontario to accept his newly earned role as a receivers coach at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Now back in Canadian collegiate football, Osei has been reminded about the immense amount of preparation that goes into the game. Now entering his second season with the Gaels, Osei enjoys continuing to build relationships with his athletes while offering mentorship in any capacity.

Off The Field

Football has shaped Osei’s life in many facets. Asides from being a football coach, Osei takes pride in being an educator, motivational speaker, and even a TV personality. In 2018, Osei appeared on the adventure reality game show The Amazing Race alongside Dylan Elias – a fellow football coach and friend. The pair finished 3rd out of 11 teams. Osei is forever grateful for the experience as he saw it as more than just a competition.

Osei (right) alongside his competition partner Dylan Elias (left)

“I’m a kid from Rexdale. Did I ever think I would find myself in Dawson City, Yukon? I got to travel across the country and see this country for what it is. I was representing so many [communities]. Fort McMurray, the Ghanaian-Canadian community, Rexdale, and StFX. It gave me the opportunity to bring people together, and it gave me the platform to inspire people” 

Learning to Address Racism

One of racism’s biggest myths is that it is non-existent in Canada. Osei thinks otherwise as he has experienced the harsh realities of racism first-hand.

During his freshman year in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Osei was involved in a physical altercation with an individual who hurled racial slurs towards him and a fellow classmate. The altercation nearly led to Osei being dismissed from StFX.

”Instead of reacting, I should have taken the time to educate him. I should have asked him why he was using those words, and if he understood their meanings. By reacting, I let him take my power away from me. It was not worth it”

Osei now makes it a top priority to encourage minorities to approach racist encounters with sheer calmness and professionalism. He feels that reacting out of anger, and emotion presents a victory to racial oppressors.

Canadian Football’s Unspoken Issue

When looking at the coaching landscape in Canadian collegiate football, Osei identifies ethnic representation as a huge issue that needs to be addressed. In U SPORTS football, there are 27 teams across Canada yet only 3 BIPOC head coaches (0.1%). Osei thinks it’s time to start understanding the roots of Canadian football’s ethnic hiring issues.

There definitely needs to be more diversity in hiring committee’s. When you have more diverse people sitting at the round table, you have more individuals who are able to identify the positive traits in BIPOC coaching candidates. U SPORTS is a diverse environment, and you need to have a coaching landscape that can resonate with that diverse environment”

Just as Osei was inspired to be a coach by Waterman, he believes that having more BIPOC coaches can inspire young BIPOC athletes to pursue a future in coaching after their playing career.

 “Having more BIPOC stakeholders in positions of power is important because youth will take note of that. For me to see Gary Waterman as a BIPOC head coach made the idea of coaching a real possibility for me”

Osei also wants to see a bigger effort made to create learning opportunities for aspiring coaches from inner-city, urban communities. As someone who grew up in an inner-city community, Osei recognizes the importance of placing youth in the presence of leaders through sport.

Who is Kwame Osei?

Kwame Osei truly is a man of many hats.

Teacher. Speaker. Coach. Educator.

Everywhere he’s been, Osei has managed spark change while creating a generational impact in the lives of many. From his community-building initiatives in Antigonish to his youth development initiatives in Fort McMurray, Kwame Osei has become more than just a coach, he has become a difference-maker. For all that he has done to uplift Canadian youth from coast-to-coast, Kwame Osei truly is a Trailblazer in Canadian Heritage and a Leader Through Sport

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