Inspired by those who helped him reach his goals, Kene Onyeka is seizing his opportunity to give back to the community. The fourth-year pro and former Ravens star volunteers his free time with the REDBLACKS Mentorship program.
The defensive lineman may be from a football family, his brother and two cousins have also played in the CFL while his cousin Ife stars at Carleton, but Kene will be the first to tell you he’s reached his current level of success because of mentors. Now as he continues to establish himself as a threat to quarterbacks across the CFL, Onyeka is giving back to the Ottawa community.
“There's people who backed me at every stage of the life,” admits the engineering grad. “I have had mentors in every stage, I've never done anything alone.” It’s that community of support that not only helped Onyeka stick in the CFL, but graduate with a degree in engineering.
After being selected by the Redblacks in 2018 Onyeka returned to Carleton to complete his degree while continuing to develop on the field and off. In his final year with the Ravens, Onyeka earned his second U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian honour while beginning to spend more time volunteering in the community.
Now an established member of the Redblacks’ defence, Onyeka works with the team’s mentorship program which aims to help at-risk youth from vulnerable communities with high rates of poverty and high rates of failure to graduate. Onyeka and some of his teammates act as athlete mentors and role models to inspire the youth to pursue their dreams. It’s a role that Onyeka cherishes.
“The one thing I hope to instill in these kids is that it's important pursue your goals. To do what you want to do, and it's just about making the right choice,” he explains.
Onyeka feels that paths to success, or achieving your goals, aren’t always linear, he emphasizes the importance of helping young people to see how they can make the right choices based on their goals.
Incredibly passionate about personal development, mentoring also offers Onyeka an opportunity to continue to develop.
“There's a lot of information I have for them,” he admits. “But there’s also a lot of things that I have learned from them. I think it's always important to go out and talk to people because I feel that's how you can really live a full life.”
Born in Nigeria before moving to Canada at nine years old, Onyeka hopes he can be a relatable voice that resonates with participants in the program. “I feel like when you see people on TV or social media it can dehumanize them a little bit,” he explains. “You don't really look at them like they're a person like you but they have the same problems that you do.”
Onyeka also supports members of the current Ravens team, taking time to answer their texts and phone calls and talk them through the process.
Off the field, Onyeka manages a small cleaning business, a role that has helped him to further explore his skills and interests with an eye on life after football. Despite all his recent success, Kene is the first to admit he’s still a work in progress.
“It's about taking all those little things and putting them together. To make the final product, which is only who you are right now. I don't feel like I'm done, I feel like I'm still in progress.”
Asked about the impact he hopes his community involvement will make, Onyeka is modest and humble.
“If I can help someone, even if it's just one person, then to me it's all worth it.”